Classifications of conceptual metaphors

As already commented in Section 2.1, metaphors frequently form clusters related by mutual inference, which are called “metaphoric fields” (in German, Metaphernfelder)

or, more commonly nowadays, “conceptual metaphors”. A priori, a classification could be based on one of three different questions:

- What source domains (bildspendende Bereiche, in German) do the metaphors

come from?

- What are the target domains that most often trigger metaphorical naming


- What couplings of source and target domain are found in the language/discourse

of economics and business?

Many of the earliest publications (e.g., Ghiczy 1988: 211 on German; Stegu 1986: 69-71 and Schmitt 1988: 118 on French; Hennet and Gil 1992 on Spanish) tried to answer the first of these questions, yielding catalogues of source domains of metaphors generally gleaned from the business section of newspapers. Stegu, for example, identified the following “semantic fields”: spatial representations (e.g., ‘spiral’), liquids (e.g., ‘liquidity’), technology (e.g., ‘engine’), military (e.g., ‘campaign’), sports (e.g., ‘champion’), weather (e.g., ‘brightening’), organic life/medicine (e.g., ‘recovery’). Classifications were on the whole quite similar, variations being due mostly to the choices of corpus to serve as the research basis and the criteria that were used for the inclusion of metaphors into a particular metaphoric field. Brandstetter’s (2015) analysis of metaphors used in corporate communication still fits into this strand of research.

In more recent times, single source domains have received closer attention. Boers (1997a, b), for example, concentrated on ‘health’, used as a source domain for describing the state of the economy since Aristotle’s time. According to the author, ‘health’ metaphors are most frequent in newspapers with a free-market ideology and are also more frequent in winter than in summer. As far as the latter correlation is concerned, he surmises that “the observed seasonal fluctuation may be taken as indirect evidence of the connection between bodily experience and abstract thought” (Boers 1997b: 55). It could also be, however, that the observed frequency difference is simply due to the higher frequency of health-related words in winter: you need not have a cold yourself in order to use a ‘health’ metaphor. Other more detailed studies have concerned the source domain comprising natural phenomena (e.g., White 2004 on ‘turbulence’; Eubanks 2012 on the ‘perfect storm’, with interesting remarks on metaphor theory).

The second question, concerning the target domains that most frequently trigger metaphorical naming strategies, has yet to be answered in a large-scale study, but many have concentrated on smaller metaphor-prone target concepts or conceptual domains. In an early example, Dominique (1971) assembled French and English metaphors used to express up-and-down movements on the stock exchange (cf. also, on Spanish and English, Gomez Parra, Marquez Linares, and Perez Hernandez 1999; on Spanish and German, Eitze 2012). Other popular target domains are money movements (e.g., Vercruysse 1995; O’Connor 1998), growth (e.g., White 2003), crises

(e.g., Foley 2012 on the US housing bubble; on the present crisis: Roller and Farrelly 2010; Rojo Lopez and Orts Llopis 2010; Silaski and Burovic 2010, among many others), and mergers and acquisitions (e.g., Herrera and White 2000; Roller 2004). The most extensive treatment of any single target domain is the book by Eubanks (2000) on how international trade is talked about (metaphorically), a study also highly recommendable for its profound treatment of metaphor-theoretical questions. The listed could be extended to include Champlin and Olson (1994) and Dunford and Palmer (1996) on restructurings or Vaara, Tienari, and Santti (2003) on mergers and acquisitions; although written by non-linguists, all three display close attention to linguistic expression. Other metaphor-prone targets, for example inflation, have never - to my knowledge - been the object of monographic treatments, even though many scattered observations can be found in literature.

The most pertinent of the three questions posed above, however, is the third. After all, a metaphor of necessity links a specific source domain to a specific target domain. The identification of metaphorical expressions must always constitute the first stage in any analysis. It is by no means a trivial task, and the outcome will depend very much on where one is willing to place the cut-off point on the dead- live continuum of metaphors. Should organization, for example, be considered as a literal expression from a synchronic perspective or as a metaphor motivated by the concept ‘organizing’? Once such questions have been answered and the set of metaphors (in the sense of ‘metaphorical expressions’) has been assembled, the next challenge consists in dividing this set into homogeneous clusters according to the type of relationship involved: synonymy, antonymy, hyponymy or others of a semantic nature.

Depending on the criteria adopted, which are generally left implicit, the outcome of this clustering exercise can vary considerably. And, although this second stage allows for considerable leeway, some decisions found in the literature are frankly surprising and surely unacceptable for the majority of linguists. In a couple of recent articles, for example, the following pairings between metaphor and conceptual metaphor have been proposed: milagre economico ‘economic miracle’ as evidence for ‘economy as religion’, an economy with little growth for ‘economy as person’, inflation is as old as the market economy for ‘inflation as organism’, galloping inflation for ‘inflation as horse’, the roots of the crisis for ‘crisis as plant’, German Kerngeschaft ‘core [lit. stone (of a fruit)] business’ and Managementfelder ‘fields of management’ for ‘management as agriculture’, etc. Such blunders testify that Semino (2002) was right when she diagnosed a “need for more explicit and better informed criteria for the extrapolation of conceptual metaphors from linguistic evidence” (p. 136).

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