Feature 8: Metaphor

Definition and Analysis Method

Like metonymy, metaphor is a rhetorical trope, and one that is identified as a particular source of innovation in language. Chapter 3 offers a broad overview of scholarly work on metaphor, and of Jakobson’s (2002) critical distinction between the metaphoric and metonymic dimensions in representation. In the same way as for metonymy, my research process consisted of identifying metaphors, grouping them by type (in this case, sense domains) and examining their frequency, the nature of source and target domains, and changes over the time period of the data set.

The first stage was to identify all metaphors in order to gain an overview of the use of metaphorical language and how this changes over the three-year period. This was an emergent approach to the data, where no assumptions were made about the type of domain of metaphors encountered, and this approach was aligned to the non-directive nature of my research questions. In other words, I did not seek to explore the frequency and usage of specific metaphorical domains, as is the case in, for example, Koller and Davidson (2008) who examine social exclusion; Koller (2003) on business and war/sport; Milne, Kearins, and Walton (2006) writing about business as a journey and White (2003) on economics and growth. Rather, I sought to identify metaphorical usages of any kind, and investigate themes that emerge: the recurrent domains that are used by journalists to conceptualise the BP crisis and its related outcomes.

The task of identifying all metaphorical usage is complex. The conventional denotation X IS Y (e.g. BUSINESS IS WAR) can imply that nominal metaphors are most typical (Cameron, 1999); however, in verbal language, metaphors span all word classes. Although metaphors are usages where one entity or process is described in terms of another, for some metaphors (“dead” metaphors), the presence of two sense domains is weak or no longer discernible. Nevertheless, I included dead and dormant metaphors in my analysis, on the grounds that even these non-creative usages can contribute, albeit weakly, to a dominant view of the phenomenon in question. Lakoff and Johnson (1980) argue that metaphors we scarcely notice still structure our shared thinking in fundamental ways.

In a business context, Koller (2003: 88-89) argues that weak or dead metaphors, nevertheless, give additional weight to dominant themes. Further, the distinction between live, dead and dormant metaphors is not always easy to define. As is the case in much linguistic analysis (e.g. the identification of genres) prototypical examples are clear, but much other identification and categorisation can be a matter of judgement.

In the BP texts, metaphors either belonged to a recurrent group (e.g. the common group BUSINESS IS WAR) or were one-off usages. In the case of recurrent groups, I included all three categories of live, dormant and dead metaphors, on the grounds that dead metaphors may still support a particular metaphorical line of thought in a congruent way.

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