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Review of Metaphor, Metonymy, and Experientialist Philosophy
Date: Tue, 7 Jun 2005 23:52:47 -0400 (EDT) From: Ioana-Ruxandra Dascalu Subject: Metaphor, Metonymy and Experientialist Philosophy
AUTHOR: Haser, Verena TITLE: Metaphor, Metonymy and Experientialist Philosophy SUBTITLE: Challenging Cognitive Semantics SERIES: Topics in English Linguistics PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter YEAR: 2005
Ioana-Ruxandra Dascalu, Chair of General Linguistics, University of Craiova
Metaphor has been a widely studied subject ever since the ancient treatises on rhetoric and style. There it has been described from three perspectives: metaphor as an ontological, linguistic or literary entity. Aristotle launched its classical definition as an abridged comparison, which supposes the resemblance and contiguity of two conceptual domains. From an ontological perspective, the transfer has been interpreted differently, either as "seeing in terms of something" or as "decomposing a given sense in order to create a new one" or as "a lexical device, whereby a gap in the lexicon is replaced by a metaphor, conceived as an association of ideas"; the purpose of metaphors is to depict the referent and to represent it concretely as a mental image. Recent points of view are focused upon the mechanism of understanding and processing mental images inspired by human concrete experience into common everyday language, creating the so-called lexical metaphors. "Metaphors as linguistic expressions are possible because they are metaphors in a person's conceptual system". (Lakoff & Johnson 1980)
The book under review is a contribution within the cognitive framework of theoreticians such as G. Lakoff, M. Johnson, R. Langacker, L. Talmy, representatives of the cognitive-experientialist movement. Accordingly, language is defined in terms of its connections to thought, imagination and bodily functions. One of the main points (to be recognized in the title also) is the subtle and controversial differences between metaphors and metonymies. Metonymies are one domain of relations with several conceptual transfers: "Teil für das Ganze, Ganzes für Teil, Gefass für Inhalt, Inhalt für Gefass, Mittel für Handlung, Material für den Gegenstand" (p. 17 apud Leisi 1985: 190-191) and so on, being conceived as "a cognitive process in which one conceptual entity, (the vehicle), provides mental access to another conceptual entity, (the target), within the same idealized cognitive model". (Radden & Kovecses 1999:21) Essentially metaphor supposes an implicit comparison, being an important event in human cognition and in the representation of the world. The philosophical tradition displays several trends in the perception of reality, which also account for the metaphorical transfer; two main directions must be emphasized: phenomenalism, which explains the existence of physical things as a mere product of sensations and objectivism, according to which the world exists independently of the human thoughts and perceptions, defining metaphor as a matter of language rather than as a matter of thought.
Goodman (1978) defines metaphor not merely as a matter of language, but as a way of worldmaking thus anticipating Lakoff & Johnson's theory which claims that metaphors are ways of organizing and conceptualizing experience. Lakoff & Johnson's theory of metaphor represents it as a matter of cognition, associated to the construction of ideas as images with a major role in categorization: "it is a matter of thought and action and only derivatively a matter of language" (Lakoff & Johnson 1980), being depicted as a tool for creating reality with an important experiential and bodily basis. Lakoff and Johnson's book classifies metaphors into three categories: orientational, ontological and structural. They also account for the manner of expressing and comprehending realities which need proper verbal description, usually in terms of other areas of experience.
The thesis Lakoff & Johnson propose is a demonstration of the role metaphors hold in everyday language: from a central nucleus, according to the family resemblances, metaphorical expressions are understood as a translation similar to comparison: "a means of understanding one thing in terms of another". Much attention is paid to the definitions of metaphor as opposed to metonymy: whereas the former is understood as a process creating "ad hoc" categories, the latter is a construction built on pre-given relations. The metaphorical process is explained as similar expressions created by family resemblances. Lakoff & Johnson consider Aristotle to be the parent of the first theories of metaphor as formulas used in current conversation (Rhet. 1404b), with the difference that they are not a part of everyday language, but a stylistic device. Frequently the two readings of an expression are connected to each other by a common nucleus of sense; in the distinction between dead and conventional metaphors, conventional metaphors also admit of a literal reading (Traugott 1985). Nevertheless, they are so similar in meaning and devices that they can hardly be separated from each other.
The first chapters of the book under review deal with such explanations as the meaning within the human conceptual domains and the understanding of some concepts in terms of the others. In the next chapters, it is the problem of truth and reality and its relation to language which takes the stand: several theories about veridicality encounter the multiplicity of "truths" vs. the "absolute objective truth", the connection between language and thought vs. the existence of the world independently of the human perceptions according to the Platonic tradition in which ideas are images and essences common to all things; metaphors figure as indispensable tools of human cognition generating idealized cognitive models of mind built according to family resemblances: with disembodied internal idea-object that can somehow correspond to states of affairs in the external worlds (Lakoff & Johnson 1980).
For instance, space is conceived as a basic entity, whereby other concepts such as temporal or notional ones are understood and expressed in terms of it. Going further than Lakoff & Johnson, Grady (1997) and Ch. Johnson (1999) introduce the concepts of "primary metaphors" as motivations for cognitively more complex metaphors: "how we comprehend and understand areas of experience that are not well-defined in their own terms and must be grasped in terms of other areas of experience". (Lakoff & Johnson 1980).Another important issue in the cognitive analyses of metaphor is its psychological underlying ground and the role thought has in creating meaning; the logical evolution from individual thinking to verbal expression originate from the preconceptual bodily experience gained in the external world, transformed into thought and meaningful language; the mechanisms of a metaphorical process depend upon the experiential basis; therefore, thought is defined as language metaphor and to analyze language means to analyze thought: "The structure of language uses the same device used to structure cognitive models ... language is made meaningful because it is directly tied to meaningful thought and depends upon the nature of thought. Thought is made meaningful in two direct connections to preconceptual bodily functioning, which is in turn highly constrained but by no means totally constrained, by the nature of the world that we function within" (Lakoff 1987).
Verena Haser's book represents a detailed account of the contemporary trends in cognitive linguistics concerning metaphor and metonymy; following the classical theories of Lakoff and Johnson (1980), however with a critical deconstructivist attitude towards them, the author analyzes the essential matters which are involved in this conceptual transfer. More than a work of linguistics, it is a work of psychology dealing with mental processes of categorization and the relationship between thought and language, between the referential world and its verbal expression. Lakoff & Johnson's point of view (considering the experientialist account of objectivity a major contribution to contemporary philosophy) is criticized as contradictory and inconsistent: "One example has brought home my point most forcefully: 10 philosophers and one philosophical movement (the Vienna Circle) are cited as endorsing, among other things, the objectivist correspondence theory of truth. Lakoff & Johnson's attribution is false or highly misleading for at least seven of these philosophers: furthermore, it does not apply to Vienna Circle tout court. Lakoff & Johnson themselves implicitly contradict two of these attributions in a different chapter" (p. 122). Her book is a very useful presentation of modern authors, from Wittgenstein's "Tractatus logico-philosophicus" to contemporary texts, with a special focus on Lakoff & Johnson's contributions.
Aristotle 1984. The Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation, Jonathan Barnes (ed.). Princeton: Princeton University Press
Grady, Joseph 1997. Foundations of Meaning: Primary Metaphors and Primary Scenes. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of California Berkeley
Goodman, Nelson 1978. Ways of Worldmaking. Indianapolis: Hackett
Johnson, Christopher 1999. Metaphor vs Conflation in the acquisition of polysemy: The case of "see". In: Masako K. Hiraga, Christopher Sinha, Shem Wilcox (eds.), Cultural, Psychological and Typological Issues in Cognitive Linguistics: Selected Papers of the Bi-annual ICLA Meeting in Albuquerque, July 1995, 155-169, Amsterdam: Benjamins
Johnson, Mark (ed.) 1981. Philosophical Perspectives on Metaphor. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press
Lakoff, George 1987. Women, Fire and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson 1980. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
Leisi, Ernst 1985. Praxis der englischen Semantik. 2nd edition. Heidelberg: Winter.
Radden, Gunther and Zoltan Kovecses 1999. Towards a theory of metonymy. In: Klaus-Uwe Panther and Gunther Radden (eds.), Metonymy in Language and Thought. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: Benjamins.
Traugott, Elizabeth Closs 1985. "Conventional" and "dead" metaphors revisited. In: Wolf Paprotté & René Dirven (eds), The Ubiquity of Metaphor. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: Benjamins.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Ioana-Ruxandra Dascalu studied Classical Philology and Literary Theory at the University of Bucharest. Her main research interests go to Latin Linguistics (including theories of Functional Grammar), historical linguistics (especially the evolution from Latin to Romance languages), general linguistics, French linguistics (modalities, semantics and pragmatics), Literary Theory, Intertextuality in ancient and modern canon.