Metaphors we Love by

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2005 18 Pages

Speech Science / Linguistics



1. Introduction and Overview

2. Metaphors
2.1 Definition of Metaphor
2.2 Literal
2.3 Figurative

3. Conceptual System
3.1. Definition of Conceptual System
3.2 Objectivity vs. Subjectivity

4. Experientialist Approach

5. Intercultural Metaphor examples of LOVE
5.1 Sexuality
5.2 Background and Causes

6. Conclusion

7. References


This paper will discuss the definition of metaphor with respect to different approaches. To provide a vaster background for such a discussion objectivity and subjectivity will necessarily be explained. This discussion will be accompanied by a contrastive examination of the concept love in several languages, namely German, Italian, and Japanese. An explanation of differences and similarities of these concepts will conclude the discussion part. Based on the results of my examples, I will show the necessity of supporting the experientialist approach.

1. Introduction and Overview

It is known that learning a second language as an adult is quite difficult. One has to acquire lots of vocabularies, grammar, and the knowledge in which context to use which expression. An important factor in second language acquisition is not to fall back into talking the proper mother tongue. This is seen as the most dreadful error in learning a new language. There are several metaphors which express pretty well the consequences of the lazy learner: Learning new language is like going an escalator in the wrong direction. When you stop going on, you will fall back, to where you started. Or: Studying in a foreign country, with every sentence in your mother tongue, you will lose ten sentences of the language you came to learn in that country. These figurative expressions seem to match the common idea of how hard it is to learn and keep on learning a foreign language. This paper is not about second language acquisition but about what metaphors are, how they are structured, and why there seems to be a definition of metaphor that goes beyond the traditional though mythical position of the ancient Greece. In detail, I first will discuss the term metaphor with respect to literal and figurative language. Then I will go on to conceptual system concentrating on the argument of the false dichotomy of objectivity and subjectivity. The interactional approach is an alternative way that can lead out of the dilemma created between these two insufficient positions. In order to test the interactional approach, I will examine the metaphor of LOVE in several languages, and under several aspects like sexuality, and platonic love. The results and the background of this examination can provide evidence for the interactional approach. After the conclusion I will provide an outlook on the argument since it is a hardly accepted and scientifically radical position with regard to the traditional view.

2. Metaphors

To get an idea of what metaphors are, the best way to find out is probably to see in which contexts metaphors are used. In several occasions it seems to be ideal or even necessary to use a metaphor. First, metaphors are found in poems, prose, in almost every branch of literature. Second, they are found in proverbs, and thus either in written or in spoken form. Third, and this is probably the occurrence we are most unaware of, metaphors make part of our everyday language. To see more clearly the crucial difference of the three areas it is practical to look at some examples:

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In the first example the road is seen as a decision in life. They share the property that one cannot travel two paths at the same time and equally one cannot make a decision between two things trying to keep both. The figurative meaning of the second example claims that it is unwise to be sure of having something what you still do not have yet. The last example is different from the first ones. It shows the parallels between the Chomskyan Period and the Period of Dinosaurs. In the first two examples the use of figurative language is more ornamental than basic for the understanding. But the last example shows the relation of two domains in this metaphor. Here seems to be a direct link between Chomsky and the metaphor of a dinosaur. How are metaphors structured, so that even people who do not know Chomsky understand the meaning of this metaphor?

2.1 Definition of Metaphor

The definition of metaphor goes further back than to Chomsky. Aristotle brought up the definition by the so called substitution[1] theory. In this case of metaphor a word is substituted by another one. The literal word and the metaphorical expression are linked by similarity or analogy. In the Aristotelian sense metaphor is seen out of any context. A metaphor is the replacement of a word by another word which actually does not fit in the new position. This is the traditional view which is valid until today. An important point, however, is the fact that metaphorical or literal are not properties of a word. These are properties of utterances. Furthermore to decide if an utterance is metaphorical or literal one has to see it in the context the utterance took place. Context means under which circumstances was the utterance meant in which way. Although the Aristotelian view is so dominant, this simplifying approach includes the logical mistake to see metaphorical expression out of context.

The pragmatic theory developed in order to account for context of utterances. Here the situation and the intention of an utterance count. There does not exist an utterance with an independent neutral meaning. Since such a meaning is not clearly delineable, no clear rules for the formation of metaphorical expression can be set up. Too many factors, such as speaker, hearer, emotions, and many more influence the interpretation of an utterance. The speakers of a community decide where to use metaphorical expressions. “Metaphorical expressions are not percept as mistaken utterances which become corrected later onwards. Furthermore we experience metaphors as an extraordinary usage, a divergence of the rule of usage and in the same moment as a reasonable and revealing divergence.”[2] The usage of a metaphor is obviously too wrong as to be wrong in a literal sense.

To get a less complicated idea of what a metaphor consists of, it is necessary to define its elements. A metaphor is an expression of which one word is referred to by another word in a predicative manner. The element, from which the new meaning is transferred from, is the source domain. The other element, in which a new meaning is created, is called target domain. Although a metaphor on the surface shows similarity, it actually denies this similarity in such an obvious way, that it must be interpreted by speaker and hearer as an intended misuse of the word. Thus a negation is existent in every metaphor. Semantic incongruences between the two domains in metaphors shall not be cancelled but kept obvious. “The predication of A is B is a continuum where the ending points are the metaphor on one side and the categorization of the term.”[3] Thus metaphor is a conceptual phenomenon which will be described as such in part 3 of this paper. Now we have taken a look at various aspects of the traditional metaphor, but since metaphor is an event of both literal and figurative language, and language starts in our minds, it seems necessary for our final definition of metaphor to take a look at how literal and figurative are defined.

2.2 Literal

Literal is a polysemous word which refers to the idea of exact representation. Its polysemy becomes more obvious by looking at some examples each from Gibbs’ The Poetics of Mind[4]:

Every word of this is literally as the man spoke it.

We had literally one minute to catch the twelve o’clock train.

With his eyes, he literally scoured the corners of the room.

When we got home, I literally died of exhaustion.

During the Super Bowl, our eyes were literally glued to the television.

He literally swept her off her feet with flowers and perfume.

In the 1930s, cures for the depression literally flooded Washington.

As we can see the term literal is applicable in different occasions. The traditional view defines literal as “based on objectively determined concepts and categories”[5]. The literal meaning of words “serves as a foundation for figurative interpretation”[6], thus figurative language depends on literal language. Literal meaning is seen as neutral and independent of subjectivity. It is a linguistic device to keep neutrality in contexts where neutrality is needed. But somewhere this neutrality has its beginning. In dictionaries words are explained in the most neutral way in order to provide information free of misunderstandings and, even more important, misinterpretations. A definition article in a dictionary shall not contain every connotation in order to avoid useless definitions enormous length. The more a definition includes, the less defined it becomes. Thus it is useful, just as today’s dictionaries are conceived, to reduce the definition of a word to a set of properties or attributes. These properties shall be crucial to the defining and description of the class the word is categorized into. According to the Checklist Theory of Word Meaning the human mind works similarly. Katz[7] assumes that for each word people have internal lists of characteristics in mind, called semantic markers or features. Each literal definition of a word consists of individually represented senses. This theory is based on the principle of economy, where the set of characteristics is small enough to be faster in processing words, and large enough to provide a distinct characterization of a word. Unfortunately the Checklist Theory lacks experimental evidence for how exactly the semantic features are structured. Studies[8] which examined the decomposition of complex words into their basic semantic features found no evidence for this theory. This and other theories based on semantic features that constitute the literal meaning of a word share the belief that categories of the mental lexicon have clear boundaries. They can neither account for cases of ambiguity, polysemy, nor for a continuum of a category which allows entities to be part of it to a certain extent.


[1] See Kurz. 1984. Page 8.

[2] Ibid. Page 15.

[3] Ibid. Page 25.

[4] See Gibbs. 1994. Page 25

[5] Ibid. Page 25

[6] Ibid. Page 26.

[7] Ibid. Page 31.

[8] Ibid. Page 33.


ISBN (eBook)
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486 KB
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Institution / College
Free University of Berlin – Deutsche und Niederländische Philologie
Metaphors Love Psycholinguistik Metapherntheorie




Title: Metaphors we Love by