The use of metaphor is central to the development and use of language. Metaphors allow the concise expression of elaborate concepts through reference to shared physical and cultural experience. They also enable the articulation of abstract, subjective experiences in tangible terms. Embodiment theories of metaphor state that metaphors arise from universal sensorimotor experiences. Cultural viewpoints, however, contend that they are instead derived from shared cultural knowledge. Studies of metaphor use connected to physical occurrences show credible evidence for an embodied relationship with primary metaphors. Cross-cultural studies, conversely, yield results that imply a multitude of influencing factors. This paper tentatively concludes that primary metaphors may have their basis in universal experience of embodiment, while complex metaphors are in addition mediated by cultural and individual factors.
The proposition being put forward in this paper is that metaphors are central to the development of language, and arise out of using descriptions of universal bodily experience as metaphors to describe abstract and subjective experiences. This will be examined through a review of viewpoints on metaphor construction from both embodied and culturally mediated perspectives. This will be followed by an analysis of studies of metaphors of emotional affect, and of cross-cultural comparisons of metaphor construction and use. Finally, conclusions will be drawn regarding possible connections between the theories in the overall formulation of metaphors.
Searches were made using combination of terms such as metaphor, embodiment, affect, emotion and culture. Articles were also selected from the bibliographies of key texts. Inclusion criteria were based on the relevance of the articles to the principle themes of the study. Few ethical issues arose with the source material. However, permission to use the texts was sought where necessary, and attribution included for all copyrighted sources used.
Aristotle is central to early views of the meaning of metaphor. Aristotle regarded metaphor as the province of poets and politicians rather than of philosophers and scientists. While he saw an understanding of metaphor as a sign of learning and intelligence, he nevertheless considered that its use by philosophers could lead to imprecise thinking. Despite restricting the legitimate uses of metaphor, Aristotle's view of the underlying logic of metaphor as being implicit comparisons based on the principles of analogy came to dominate thinking in the area. Ortony (1987, p.478) argues that this had the unfortunate effect of blurring the distinction between metaphor, analogy and similarity. As a result of Aristotle's limiting of the use of metaphor to the ornamental, the study of metaphor was largely confined to rhetoricians.
The revival in the examination of metaphor in English speaking cultures began with Richards (1936), who put forward the idea of metaphor as central to the acquisition of language. Richards (1936, p.96) also introduced terminology which has come to be standard in the field. Later Black (1962) developed Richards' ideas, arguing that the source and target domains interact via the metaphor to produce an emergent meaning for a phrase that transforms the interpretation of both (Ortony, 1987, p.479; Nerlich & Clarke, 2001, p.40).
A modern theory of metaphor that has come to be central to current thinking on the subject began with Lakoff and Johnson's publication of Metaphors We Live By (1980). In this they argue for the embodied, physical basis for the development of metaphor. Interestingly, Nerlich and Clarke (2001, p.39) report on the development of theories in nineteenth century Germany showing parallels with Lakoff and Johnson, notably in their view of metaphor as necessary to the structure of language and in their emphasis on a close link between body and mind. Quinn (1987), on the other hand, argues that these sensorimotor models do not account for the similarity in individuals' understanding of metaphor, as their diverse experiences should lead to differing interpretations.
A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is used to represent something other than its original 'literal' meaning, with the intention of implying a resemblance between the two (Audi, 1999, p.562). Metaphors are part of a broader category of figurative, non-literal language. The distinction between literal and non-literal language can be one of applicability in the physical world: literal language often refers to a concrete entity, in contrast to the abstract qualities implied by non-literal language. The literal meaning in this case is often the meaning most likely to occur to a listener if asked to explain the word, and not given any prior context (Knowles & Moon, 2006, p.7). Metaphors are therefore instances of non-literal language involving a comparison or identification; if interpreted literally they would be impossible or nonsensical.
It is possible to further distinguish metaphors according to their prevalence in common usage. Metaphors that are considered creative or novel are those constructed to express an idea in a particular context. They are generally new, and often associated with literature and other 'creative' writing. These forms may be contrasted with conventional or dead metaphors. These are instead metaphors that have been conventionalised through widespread use over a period of time. Although originally metaphorical, dictionaries typically record them as separate usages, and they are not usually thought of as metaphorical in everyday usage. Speaking of the field of psychology, for example, is sufficiently common to justify a dictionary entry for this form of use (Glucksberg & McGlone, 1999, p.1543; Knowles & Moon, 2006, p.6). It is interesting to consider that conventional metaphors may imply certain attitudes in a society, and conversely that the same metaphor may have very different connotations in different cultures. Metaphorical use of 'divorced' to imply separation, for instance, may be interpreted differently depending on the prevailing moral or religious attitudes to marriage in a society (Knowles & Moon, 2006, p.2, 12).
In the discussion and analysis of metaphor, several terms have become established. Richards (1936, p.96) introduced the terms vehicle, indicating the metaphor itself, and tenor or topic, for the intended meaning referred to by the metaphor. The term grounds was proposed for the relationship between these metaphorical and literal meanings. By examining the grounds, we can see the particular aspects of the vehicle that are being used to imply the intended topic. For example, the conventional metaphor 'mountain' may be used to refer to a substantial amount of paperwork. In this case, it is the size and intimidating presence of the mountain that are drawn on to give the intended impact. However, in a different context other aspects of a mountain could be implied, such as ideas of cold, rockiness or inhospitability (Knowles & Moon, 2006, p.10).
Lakoff and Johnson (1999, p.45) argue that metaphor allows imagery derived from sensorimotor experience to be used in the domain of subjective experience (Fainsilber & Ortony, 1987, p.241). They describe their Integrated Theory of Primary Metaphor as being constructed from a number of aspects. Firstly, they argue that for young children, external sensorimotor and internal subjective experiences are so intimately connected that they create associations between the two domains. The subjective experience of affection for an infant, for example, is likely to be correlated with the sensory experience of warmth from being held. Lakoff and Johnson (1999, p.46) argue that this period of conflation of the external and subjective domains creates longstanding mappings of concepts between the different realms of experience that persist beyond this experiential stage of childhood. Since the embodied experiences are universal, many primary metaphors derived from them are shared across cultures (Lakoff & Johnson, 1999, p.56; Kövecses, 2000, p.115; Meier & Robinson, 2005, p.240).
These universal early experiences lead to the generation of hundreds of primary metaphors. These primary metaphors have minimal structure and arise naturally and unconsciously from everyday experience. Complex metaphors, they argue (Lakoff & Johnson, 1999, p.46) are 'molecular', made up of the 'atoms' of the concepts of primary metaphors blended together. Universal conflations of experience lead in turn to the generation of a large number of conventional metaphors. In addition to this mechanism, Lakoff and Johnson (1999, p.47) state that distinct conceptual domains can be coactivated; under certain conditions connections can be formed across the domains. These associations may lead to the creation of new inferences, which may form conventional or novel metaphors. They suggest this is another possible mechanism by which primary metaphors can combine to form complex metaphors.
Lakoff and Johnson (1999, p.58) go on to argue that, even when it is possible to express a situation through the use of literal statements, a metaphorical one can give more information. An external sensorimotor experience in particular is easy to express without the use of metaphor; this will, however, only give a minimal amount of detail about it. A primary metaphor, by contrast, allows the drawing in of significant additional information through inference. Furthermore, this can be considerably multiplied by the use of a complex metaphor. In this way many source domains can be referenced in a short phrase, giving a rich picture of the situation in a succinct manner (Ortony, 1987, p.480). They further speculate that most abstract thought may be impossible without employing metaphorical reference to the sensorimotor domain (Lakoff & Johnson, 1999, p.59).
Examination of a complex metaphor can show, in Lakoff and Johnson's (1999, p.60) view, how it is made up of constituent primary metaphors, and the implications of its use on patterns of thinking. They examine the complex metaphor A Purposeful Life Is A Journey, stating that the main primary metaphors used in its construction are Purposes Are Destinations, and Actions Are Motions. They note this can be interpreted as the cultural belief 'People are supposed to have destinations in life, and they are supposed to move so as to reach those destinations' (Lakoff & Johnson, 1999, p.61). They combine this with the fact that a long trip to a series of destinations is a journey, and show that the complex metaphor can then be broken down into:
A Purposeful Life Is A Journey
A Person Living A Life Is A Traveler
Life Goals Are Destinations
A Life Plan Is An Itinerary
(Lakoff & Johnson, 1999, p.61)
They go on to note that not only does this complex metaphor provide extensive imagery, it is also unconsciously used to reason with. The widespread cultural use of the metaphor leads to unconscious assumptions about the subject — in this case, that a life must have a purpose, that goals should be chosen with the aim of achieving this purpose, and that there may be obstacles to overcome along the way. They note that people lacking a purpose are regarded as 'lost' or 'without direction', and in need of help (Lakoff & Johnson, 1999, p.61). They further state that the complex metaphor A Purposeful Life Is A Journey is embodied in an important cultural document, the Curriculum Vitae (from the Latin, 'the course of life'). This indicates where we have 'been' in life; it is interpreted to determine whether we are 'on schedule'. They note that cultures exist in which this metaphor is not prevalent, and in which these judgments would therefore make no sense (Lakoff & Johnson, 1999, p.63).
Lakoff and Johnson (1999, p.63) state that complex metaphors are understood through systematic mappings between vehicle and topic in the primary metaphors from which they are constructed. They argue that these consistent mappings enable novel metaphors to be understood by matching the new specific vehicle used to an appropriate topic within a pre-existing structure (Lakoff & Johnson, 1999, p.66). They acknowledge that complex metaphors do not have a direct experiential grounding in the sensorimotor domain. There is no particular correlation, for instance, between journeys and purposeful lives in everyday experience. However, they argue that complex metaphors are composed of primary metaphors, and these are themselves experientially grounded. They maintain that this grounding is 'preserved' when the primary metaphors are combined into a larger complex metaphor (Lakoff & Johnson, 1999, p.63).
In their paper presenting a minimal theory of metaphor, Glucksberg and McGlone (1999, p.1545) question Lakoff & Johnson's concept of systematic mappings between vehicle and topic. They argue that this implies that interpretations are retrieved from thousands of mappings held in 'semantic memory', and made largely unconsciously and automatically. This, however, does not account for differing interpretations of novel metaphors. Glucksberg and McGlone (1999, p.1547) tested the interpretation of three metaphors: Our love is a bumpy rollercoaster ride; Our love is a voyage to the bottom of the sea; Our love is a filing cabinet. In the case of the first, they found that only one out of twelve interpretations made explicit reference to a journey-related concept. However, they found that all twelve referred to alternating positive and negative aspects of 'our love'. Glucksberg and McGlone (1999, p.1546) state that journey-specific references should have been present if Lakoff and Johnson's theory is accurate. However, it could equally be argued that a consistent interpretation was present — that of alternating states. Furthermore, an examination of their results shows two direct references to 'highs' and 'lows', and three further interpretations including the phrase 'ups and downs' (Glucksberg & McGlone, 1999, p.1547). This could be seen as highly consistent with a sensorimotor basis for metaphor as espoused by Lakoff and Johnson.
The other interpretations examined by Glucksberg and McGlone (1999, p.1548) were chosen as examples of novel metaphors. In the case of Our love is a voyage to the bottom of the sea, their results showed varying interpretations. They argue that according to Lakoff and Johnson's hypothesis, love-journey mappings should be accessed; they see no evidence for this in the responses. This, however, assumes that this particular mapping would be the most relevant, based on the presence of the word 'voyage' in the phrase. It is possible that bottom of the sea is instead at the core of interpretations of the metaphor. The responses show four references to concepts of danger (going to kill us; drowning; dangerous; dangerous and disastrous) and four to ideas of the unknown (uncharted... unpredictable; mysterious; unknown; don't know... where headed) (Glucksberg & McGlone, 1999, p.1547). These may indicate that this latter interpretation has some validity.
Glucksberg and McGlone's (1999, p.1549) final example is Our love is a filing cabinet. In the case of this novel metaphor, they found little consistency in its interpretation. They state that the conceptual metaphor Relationships Are Containers would be expected to be accessed according to Lakoff and Johnson's domain mapping theory. They do find some references to ideas of containers in their results; however these do not dominate but rather coexist with other concepts, notably of monotony and of organisation. Glucksberg and McGlone (1999, p.1549) regard this as further evidence for the lack of systematic mappings between the domains of topic and vehicle. Since several related concepts appear in the responses, however, it may be that a multidimensional mapping exists between a complex metaphor and several source domains. This would be consistent with Lakoff and Johnson's (1999, p.60) view of complex metaphor as being constructed from primary metaphors. Alternatively, the variation in respondents' interpretations in this case may simply be due to the lack of a good fit between this particular (novel) metaphor and the target domain. It is interesting to contemplate whether conventional metaphors 'stick' through exhibiting a particularly coherent set of mappings between vehicle and topic domains.
In their collection of papers on cultural models of language, Quinn and Holland (1987, p.24) make a distinction between image-schema and proposition-schema cognitive models. Image-schema models, in their view, are those such as Lakoff and Johnson's theory of the embodied basis for metaphor. These include kinaesthetic information of all types in addition to visual characteristics. They acknowledge (Quinn & Holland, 1987, p.28) that the advantage of image-schema models is their grounding in physical experience. This allows intangible concepts to be more readily understood through reconceptualising them in physical terms. For instance, the concept of War may be a useful metaphor for an argument, since the latter is an abstract concept, whereas war is largely culturally defined in terms of physical space (battlegrounds, battle lines, demilitarised zones) occupied by physical events (troop advances, cross-fire, body counts). They state that this is more important than whether the knowledge is grounded in personal experience, or only known through depictions of conflict (Quinn & Holland, 1987, p.28).
Quinn and Holland (1987, p.22) argue elsewhere, however, that image-schema models alone are insufficient in explaining the comprehension of metaphors. They contend that if an individual's understanding is derived solely from personal sensorimotor occurrences, widely varying explanations should be expected given the diversity in subjects' experiences. Instead, common understandings of concepts are shown throughout a culture. Quinn & Holland (1987, p.25) assert that proposition-schemas provide extensive cultural knowledge that supplements that derived from image-schema models. This shared cultural knowledge not only permits concise communication of detailed concepts, but also enables 'causal chains' to be developed that can be used in reasoning. These utilise related representations to explain a sequence of events, and often take a narrative form. For example, using the concepts that An offense to a person produces anger in that person, and Retribution cancels an offense, the idea that Anger disappears when retribution is exacted can be derived (Quinn & Holland, 1987, p.33; Lakoff & Kövecses, 1987, p.212).
Proposition-schema based models share the capacity of image-schema models for simplifying communication by referencing shared experience (cultural or sensorimotor), thus greatly reducing the amount of information that must be referenced directly. Quinn and Holland (1987, p.30) further maintain that image-schema metaphors are not extended arbitrarily from one domain into another, but rather are constrained by the cultural model in the target domain: those that are chosen denote aspects of a simplified world composed of prototypical instances of events. It is interesting to consider the possibility that sensorimotor models may structure the construction of primary metaphors, while their composition into complex metaphors may be governed by cultural factors.
Meier and Robinson (2000, p. 243) carried out studies into metaphors linking spatial location and affect. In their first study, they found (2000, p. 244) that subjects evaluated positive words more quickly when they were in the 'up' rather than the 'down' position, and negative words faster when they were in the 'down' position. In the second study (2000, p. 245), positive evaluations activated higher areas of visual space, whereas negative ones activated lower areas. In another paper, Meier et al. (2007, p.366) carried out a series of studies into the relationship between perceptual judgments of brightness and positive or negative evaluations. In all three studies, they found a significant bias towards a brighter direction following positive evaluations. They assert that this shows that the metaphoric mappings are sufficient to lead subjects to violate input from visual perception when judging the brightness of an object (Meier et al., 2007, p.374).
In their related review of metaphorical representations of affect, Meier and Robinson (2005, p.239) discuss associations between affect and physical perceptions. They point out that both social rewards such as interaction and physical rewards such as food are commonly more prevalent during the daytime. Conversely, humans are ill equipped to respond to potential dangers in the darkness. They therefore argue that it should not be surprising that positive affect becomes linked with light, while negative affect is associated with the dark (Meier and Robinson, 2005, p.240).
In his study of expressions of anger and happiness in English and Chinese, Yu (1995, p. 63) states that English and Chinese share the same overall conceptual metaphor that 'anger is heat'. However, he finds differences within this in that English uses 'fire' and 'fluid' metaphors, whereas Chinese uses 'fire' and 'gas'. He finds (Yu, 1995, p. 77) that English and Chinese share 'up', 'light' and 'container' metaphors in their conceptualizations of happiness. He further finds (Yu, 1995, p. 87) that the two languages follow the same metonymic principle in talking about both emotions by describing their physiological effects. However, he notes (Yu, 1995, p. 80) that Chinese tends to employ more references to body parts than English, especially internal organs. Yu (1995, p.85) argues that this is due to the long-standing associations between body parts and certain emotions within the 'Five Element' Theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
In his analysis of figurative uses of finger and palm in Chinese and English, Yu (2000, p.165) finds that the metaphor Control Is Holding In The Palm Of The Hand is richly manifested in Chinese, but not in English. Conversely, he finds the conceptual metaphor The Finger Is The Doer to be widely exhibited in English, but not in Chinese. Yu (2000, p.172) asserts that both are nonetheless grounded in universal bodily experiences with the hand. He notes that in the first case, English has the equivalent Control Is Holding In The Hand, while in the second, The Hand Is The Doer is a comparable metaphor in Chinese. Consequently, he argues (Yu, 2000, p.172) that commonality lies in the grounding of metaphors in common bodily experiences, whereas differences are found only in the respective choices of body subpart.
In another study, Yu (2003, p.141) examines the metaphor system The Mind Is A Body in Chinese. In an extensive investigation of the constituent conceptual metaphor Thinking Is Seeing he finds numerous examples of expressions in Chinese that indicate its use (Yu, 2004, p.663). Yu states (2003, p.161) that concepts of 'light' are of particular importance. Yu (2003, p.143) also analyses the metaphor Thinking Is Moving, similarly finding it in widespread use in phrases in Chinese. Yu (2003, p.162) notes that thinking in Chinese is considered to take place in the heart as well as in the brain. He states that the Chinese word xin refers both to the physical heart and to the 'mental' heart — the equivalent of the mind in English — and contends that this may reflect the Chinese cultural model in which the heart controls all mental activities, and controls the brain. He further contrasts this with the Western model in which the heart is the seat of the emotions, and the brain is the locus of thoughts (Yu, 2003, p.162).
In her examination of Chinese narratives of depression, Pritzker (2007, p.252) also notes that conventional Chinese metaphors for thinking and feeling centre on the heart; she maintains, however, that these mainly derive from dictionaries or other texts. Pritzker (2007, p.254) conducted an analysis of interviews with 49 patients at four Beijing hospitals and one university outpatient clinic. Each clinic differed in the prominence it accorded to biomedicine or Chinese medicine. The results showed 92% of participants used heart related metaphors to express both thinking and feeling, while 37% also used brain metaphors for both concepts.
Pritzker (2007, p.258) further investigated the notion that the use of brain metaphors reflected the importation of a Western philosophical framework. Accordingly, she examined any bias in the use of brain or heart metaphors corresponding to age, sex, education, employment or rural or urban residency. In all cases, Pritzker (2007, p.260) found no significant differences across the populations. In a further in-depth evaluation of interviews with three patients, she finds (Pritzker, 2007, p.268) that, while each uses heart and brain metaphors, all three exhibit a primacy for the heart that is not equaled by the brain. In all three narratives, however, the heart and brain are intimately connected. Pritzker (2007, p.268) concludes that, rather than being a sign of Western cultural influence, the results reflect variations in the extent to which individuals draw on different models in their personal narratives.
The use of metaphor in the expression of concepts appears to be universal. Metaphors allow the succinct expression of complex ideas, as they draw in shared knowledge of both physical and cultural experience. In particular, metaphors are used to express abstract and subjective notions in more tangible terms. Proponents of an embodied theory argue that metaphors arise from early, shared sensorimotor experiences. They are thus universal and of central importance to language development. They contend that systematic mappings exist between source and target domains, and that these are largely consistent across individuals and cultures. Critics, however, maintain that if metaphors are solely grounded in personal sensorimotor occurrences, their use should be expected to vary widely as individuals' experiences differ. These theorists also argue that complex metaphors, composed as they are from primary metaphors, are not grounded in physical experience, but are rather culturally constructed narratives. They do not explain, however, how this may take place.
Studies examining the possible embodiment of primary metaphors in sensorimotor experience, particularly of metaphors of affect, have consistently shown connections between physical experience and interpretation of metaphor. This is persuasive of the validity of an embodied basis for primary metaphor. Analyses of differing cultural interpretations of metaphor, however, have shown complex results. In this case a number of cultural and individual factors appear to be at play. It may be that universal experiences of embodiment are the basis for the construction of primary metaphors, while cultural and individual elements are at the root of the creation of complex metaphors.
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