Defining and Identifying Conceptual Metaphor

The play on literal and figurative meanings of carry in the Zen story is possible because of cross-domain mapping. Within Cognitive Linguistics, a cross-domain mapping occurring at the level of cognition is referred to as a conceptual metaphor. It is represented using capital letters in order to mark it as a reference to thought as opposed to the expression of that thought in, for example, speech or writing. In order to illustrate how figurative language and conceptual metaphors are identified, consider the extract below from an Evangelical Christian testimonial from the Evangelical Times (2018):

[A]s I then began to read the Bible, I very gradually came to understand what Jesus had done for me in dying on the cross. Eventually I came to experience the joy and peace that comes from saving faith.

[...] It is my joy still to walk with the Lord daily.

(Cadd, 2018)

In these extracts, initial understanding is viewed as a destination in a journey—a place that the believer “came to”. The experience of joy and peace is similarly viewed as the end point of a journey, while the feelings themselves are described as coming from a particular point of origin. Finally, near the end of the testimonial, the believer’s use of“with” describes life as a Christian as daily movement in proximity to a divine entity. Thus, the experience of being a Christian is being mapped onto movement toward a destination.

This fits in well with numerous examples of figurative language that view life as movement along a path and the perceived purpose of life as a destination. Networks of linguistic expressions that draw on a common conceptualization suggest a shared cross-domain association, which in this case is formally stated as life is a journey, stylized with small caps. A more fine-grained association for these examples might also be posited, such as spiritual life is a journey, which could be further elaborated as the Christian life is a journey.

Another common metaphor that is connected to a shared experience of having a human body is knowing is seeing or understanding is seeing. Again, a cross-domain mapping is present with the target domain being understanding of something and the source domain being the experience of seeing. The metaphor is also closely connected to the source domains of light and darkness, such as when darkness is used in the sense of blindness to the truth and light is viewed as unveiled truth. Below are some examples from Muslim, Christian, Zen Buddhist, and Jodo ShinshO Buddhist texts, respectively:

God is light. The opposite of light is darkness, which is nothing. In other words, God has no real, existing opposite, since nothing is not really something.


Jesus also said we were the “light of the world” (Matt. 5:14). It is no accident Jesus also used that phrase to refer to Himself: “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). Now that Christ has ascended into heaven, we are to function as His light.

(Jeffress, 2018, p. 77)

[OJne telling phrase uttered by the teacher may be the golden arrow which suddenly and unpredictably finds its mark, tearing asunder the innermost cloak of darkness and suffusing the mind with light and inner understanding.

(Kapleau, 2000, p. 80)

Thus,Amida Buddha signifies that which illuminates and nurtures all people and all living things across infinite space and infinite time.

(Shigaraki, 2000/2013, p. 26)

Particular source domains are especially pervasive in religious language. For example, cognitive linguistic analyses show that the source domain of light is present to some degree in the majority of religious texts (Charteris-Black, 2004). The journey domain has also been identified in many studies, as have purity, attachment, nurturance, and many others.

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