Conceptual Metaphor Theory (CMT)

Metaphors have been traditionally defined as a linguistic tool mainly used for artistic or rhetoric purposes (e.g.,: poetry, oratory). Therefore, the approach to the study of this phenomenon has usually been linguistic-oriented. However, theorists in the field of Cognitive Linguistics proposed a new way to explain it. In their view, the creation of a metaphor starts at a cognitive level and it is subsequently lexicalised via a linguistic expression. Lakoff and Johnson’s (1980) influential books on metaphor has aimed to demonstrate that this phenomenon is an integral part of our conceptual system and explored its pervasive nature in everyday human life, including language, thought and action (1980: 3). Lakoff and Johnson’s observation is that among the various ways of understanding and talking about the reality that surrounds them, human beings tend to use metaphors more often than they think and mostly unconsciously. For example, a concept such as ‘argument’ in English is often expressed in terms of ‘war’ with entrenched lexical expressions such as “I demolished her argument” or “he shot down all of my arguments”. Linguistic metaphorical expressions are therefore the manifestation of a conceptual process in our mind that is based on the projection of some structure from one domain (source) in to another (target) (1980: 4-5). The examples above are therefore linguistic realisations of the conceptual metaphor “argument is war”.

Lakoff and Johnson also highlight the fact that conceptual metaphors are created according to our physical, cultural and social experience; therefore, they may vary across culture. Some of them may be present in many cultures while others may be peculiar to a given culture (1980: 23-24). Subsequent studies have confirmed that some metaphors are shared by many cultures, especially of those based on bodily experience (Lakoff 1987; Lakoff and Johnson 1999; Kovecses 2000, 2002 on ‘universal’ conceptual metaphors). However, other studies have focused on the diachronic and synchronic nature of metaphorical expressions. For example, Kovecses (2005: 233) demonstrates that universal conceptual metaphors can present some ‘cultural variation’ within a given culture, which depends on many factors, such as social context, communicative situation, topic etc. (Deignan 2003).

Most importantly, Kovecses (2002: 242; 2005:106-111) puts forward the idea that individuals have the ability to shape metaphors according to their peculiar way of perceiving the external world or their personal experiences in life (i.e. as a child, teenager, student, etc.). In other words, they tend to create a metaphor by means of one source domain that is part of their concerns or interests (‘human concern’), which belong to their ‘personal history’. This concept can be applied to the investigation of online metaphor both in the real world and in fiction. On the one hand, it can reveal how authors can create their characters’ metaphorical patterns in an unconscious way as the result of the author’s ‘personal history’ (cf. Kovecses ibid. ch. 8). On the other hand, it can be a fruitful tool to show how repeated idiosyncratic metaphors may be used in order to project the peculiarities of a character, their mind style (Semino and Swindler- hurst 1996; Semino 2002). I will apply the concepts of ‘human concern’ and ‘personal history’ during the data analysis, which demonstrates how the scriptwriters of Friends make use of online metaphorical expressions to convey specific characterisation cues.

It can be certainly argued that CMT has been a real breakthrough in the field of metaphor research, opening new avenues for the analysis and understanding of this phenomenon. However, CMT seems to lack suitable methodology for extrapolating conceptual metaphors from linguistic evidence. Therefore, it is sometimes difficult categorising linguistic expressions under one or the other conceptual metaphor. A more precise model and further analyses based on data other than linguistic patterns have also been advocated (cf. Murphy 1996). More importantly, CMT cannot fully account for all the processes involved in creating and understanding metaphors, especially the online production and reception of novel ones (Kovecses 2002: 233; 2005: 267). Conversely, Blending Theory (BT) and its model seems more adequate to explain specific interpretations of particular metaphorical expressions.

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