Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Kövecses: Metaphor: A Practical Introduction (2002/2010)

This book is a textbook in cognitive metaphor theory, summarizing and surveying most of what has been going on the field since the publication of Metaphors We Live By.

It faithfully reproduces every example and argument ever proposed by that tradition. It has very few original examples, and the quality of the argumentation is often less than one would desire.

Metaphor "governs our thought"
In the preface to the first edition of the book, Kövecses cites a number of conventional metaphors like the ills of society, the road to success, and a branch of the organization.

He then goes on to claim that these aren't dead at all, contrary to appearances:
The "dead metaphor" account misses an important point: namely, that what is deeply entrenched, hardly noticed, and thus effortlessly used is most active in our thought. The metaphors listed above may be highly conventional and effortlessly used, but this does not mean that they have lost their vigor in thought and that they are dead. On the contrary, they are "alive" in the most important sense---they govern our thought: they are "metaphors we live by." (p. xi)
I suppose that by this logic, a word like capital most vigorously evokes the image of a head, since it is even more conventionalized and more hidden than phrases like head of state or warhead.

The evidence for metaphorical thought
Like all cognitive metaphor theorists, Kövecses wants to have his cake and eat it, too: He wants our knowledge of target domains to arise out of metaphors, but metaphors to be constrained by our knowledge of the target domains.

It is quite shocking how little the arguments for these claims have evolved over the past 30 years. I will need to quote him at some length to fully convey this state of affairs.

So, after citing the metaphor LOVE IS A JOURNEY, Kövecses writes (p. 9):
From this discussion, it might seem that the elements in the target domain have been there all along and that people came up with this metaphor because there were preexisting similarities between the elements in the two domains. This is not so. The domain of love did not have these elements before it was structured by the domain of journey. It was the application of the journey domain to the love domain that provided the concept of love with this particular structure or set of elements. In a way, it was the concept of journey that "created" the concept of love.
Note the lack of qualifiers here. All of our knowledge about love arises through metaphorical mappings, it seems. This should be contrasted with his reliance on "objective, preexisting similarity" when he talks about the constraints on metaphor (p. 79).

He goes on:
 To see that this is so, try to do a thought experiment. Try to imagine the goal, choice, difficulty, or progress aspect of love with making use of the journey domain. Can you think of the goal of a love relationship without at the same time thinking of trying to reach a destination at the end of a journey? Can you think of the progress made in a love relationship without at the same time imagining the distance covered in a journey? Can you think of the choices made in a love relationship without thinking of choosing a direction in a journey? The difficulty of doing this shows that the target of love is not structured independently of and prior to the domain of journey.
Another piece of evidence for the view that the target of love is not structured independently of any source domains is the following. In talking about the elements that structure a target domain, it is often difficult to name the elements without recourse to the language of the source. In the present example, we talk about the goals associated with love, but this is just a slightly "disguised" way of talking about destinations given in the source; the word goal has an additional literal or physical use---not just a metaphorical one. In the same way, the word progress also has a literal or physical meaning, and it comes from a word meaning "step, go."  These examples show that many elements of target concepts come from source domains and are not preexisting.
There are thus two main strands of evidence for this theory of the psychology of speech: Introspection and linguistic or etymological evidence.

I think Raymond Gibbs has said what needed to be said about the first one. Verena Haser, Sam Glucksberg, and others have said what needed to be said about the other.

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