Translating Emotion Conceptual Metaphors: A Case of Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom in isiXhosa

Bulelwa Nokele

University of South Africa, Pretoria


Scholarly interest in metaphors has increased since the publication of Lakoff and Johnson’s (1980/2003) Metaphors we live by, with scholars investigating different contexts (Mandelblit 1995; Schäffner 2004; Schaffner and Shuttleworth 2013). This study, which explores how emotion conceptual metaphors were translated from Mandela’s (1994) Long walk to freedom into isiXhosa in Indicia ende eya enkululekweni (Mandela 2001), adds to the limited research about conceptual metaphors in South African indigenous languages in general and isiXhosa in particular. Since theory is about discovering regularities, the identified metaphors and translation strategies provide insight into the cognitive processes underlying translation decisions.

The study explores how emotions (specifically, of happiness/sadness and anger) are interpreted through a cognitive lens, namely ‘conceptual metaphor theory’ (CMT) (Lakoff and Johnson 1980/2003) within a descriptive translation studies (DTS) framework. It also seeks to create awareness that metaphor is not for artistic purposes only, but is a matter of language and thought (Lakoff and Johnson 1980/2003). This means that questions of translatability are not only about linguistic style, but are also about thought processes.

The Cognitive Turn: Metaphor and Metaphor Translation

Unlike rhetoric or classic metaphors, which need time to process mentally, linguistic expressions that are manifestations of conceptual metaphors comprise ordinary language used in daily communication and therefore do not need much processing.

Conceptual Metaphor

The study of metaphor shifted from the traditional to the cognitive approach after Lakoff and Johnson (1980/2003) published their seminal work Metaphors we live by. Though most research done in the past focused on the classic view of metaphor as a linguistic phenomenon used for rhetorical purposes only (Kovecses 2010), according to Radman (1995), scholars acknowledged its cognitive aspect as early as the eighteenth century. Unlike previous theorists, who concentrated on metaphor as an ornamental device of poetic language, Lakoff and Johnson (1980/2003) introduced metaphor as being pervasive in language and thought, present in everyday language. They maintain that metaphor “is based on cross-domain correlations in our experience, which give rise to the perceived similarities between the two domains within the metaphor” (Lakoff and Johnson 1980/2003:245). This theory became known as the “conceptual metaphor theory”.

The basis of the theory is that metaphors help humans to understand the world and give structure to abstract concepts by understanding one domain in terms of another. The source domain from which meaning is inferred is concrete, while the target domain we seek to understand is abstract. The meaning of the metaphor is drawn by bringing together elements of both domains. Kovecses (2010) refers to this mental process as mapping. He suggests four cognitive components to describe metaphoric structures, namely: conceptual metaphors; conceptual metonymy; related concepts; and cognitive models, and elaborates how rich knowledge about the domains combines to understand reality.

Conceptual metaphors involve cross-domain mapping (Kovecses 2010). For example, in isiXhosa, when we are thinking deeply about something, we say Ndisayetyisa le nto undixelele yona". The basic meaning of the root ukwetyisa (in ndisayetyisa) refers to animals chewing cud, while the contextual meaning is about thinking (Kropf 1915). The two meanings are distinct, rendering the phrase ndisayetyisa metaphorical. The contextual meaning illustrates that ideas can be understood in terms of food being digested for nourishment. Similarly, understanding and response will come after the information has been processed. The animal’s mouth corresponds to the brain, food to ideas, chewing (digestion) to process-ing/interpretation in the brain, and nourishment to understanding and subsequent response. The linguistic expression ndisayetyisa is therefore an instantiation of the conceptual metaphor or cross-domain mapping IDEAS ARE FOOD. Conceptual metaphors are written in upper case.

By contrast, metonymies do not involve cross-domain mapping; instead, part of a domain is used to indicate another part within the same domain (Lakoff and Johnson 1980/2003; Kovecses 2010). Metonymies motivate metaphors both linguistically and physically. The physical aspect usually involves parts of the body. An example of an emotion metaphor derived from a metonymic relationship is found in the expression Uthe akuva ukuba umntwana wakhe waxhatshazwa ngutitshala esikohueni, waya evutha kweso sikolo (when she heard that her child was molested by a teacher at school, she went to that school burning flames) (own example).

The flames (heat) makes us understand the intensity of anger the parent felt. Both the heat and the anger are inside the same body, and the intensity of the heat corresponds to the build-up of anger.

These two examples illustrate that conceptual metaphor is a natural part of human (subconscious) thought, and its linguistic expression a natural part of human language (Lakoff and Johnson 1980/2003:247).

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