Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Murphy/Gibbs debate

Spread out over three issues of Cognition in 1996 and 1997, Greg Murphy and Ray Gibbs had a very interesting exchange of opinions about cognitive metaphor theory (Murphy 1996, Gibbs 1996, Murphy 1997).

Murphy argued that a prior-similarity-based account of meaning extension is leaner and more precise than cognitive metaphor theory. Gibbs disagreed.

The Strong View and the Weak View
Murphy (1996) makes a distinction between what he calls the "strong" and the "weak" version of cognitive metaphor theory.

The strong view is that target domains have no inherent structure, and so get all their meaning through metaphors. The weak view is that they do have some "skeleton" of structure (1996: 187), perhaps consisting of something like thematic roles and unspecified relations between actors.

Murphy dismisses the strong view on two accounts.

First, all the false inferences predicted by a general metaphor need to be blocked. This can essentially only be done if the target domain has an autonomous structure, and if there is an authority higher than metaphor that can choose to apply or not apply the metaphors.

Second, suppose we have a chain of conceptualization such as
There are then four links in which noise, wrong inferences, and memory problems may slip in. This seems computationally and psychologically unfortunate.

"Problems of circularity of evidence"
Murphy also notes that one cannot expect the same pool of data to be both explainer and explained. Non-linguistic evidence is needed (1996: 183).

He notes that some of Boaz Keysar and Bridget Bly's (1995) evidence also seems to suggest that metaphor understanding is a post-hoc, backward-looking construction.

That seems to be how our intuitions work. But Murphy warns us that we should not assume that the products of these intuitions reflect anything about the actual mental process (1996: 184).

"Problem of multiple metaphors"
Murphy goes on to note that some super-metaphorical arbiter must choose between metaphors when we have multiple inconsistent options.

As an example, he mentions LOVE, which is conceptualized as a JOURNEY, an OPPONENT, a UNITY, a HIDDEN OBJECT, a VALUABLE COMMODITY, and INSANITY. These various source domains seem to license different inferences.

In his response to Murphy's article, Gibbs rebuts that "concepts are temporary, independent constructions in working memory created on the spot" (Gibbs 1996: 313).

This is in direct conflict with the claim that the conceptual system exists "in long-term memory" which appears elsewhere in the literature (Lakoff 1998: 51; Lakoff and Johnson 1999: 69).

What counts as literal?
According to Murphy, when Lakoff and Johnson state that physical meanings are the only literal meanings, this is
their theory of concepts applied to language; namely, it says that only simple physical experiences can be directly encoded in linguistic meaning, and nonphysical or abstract relations must be expressed via metaphor. Thus, their claim that Inflation is rising is metaphoric is basically an assumption of their theory, rather than evidence for it. (1996; p. 189)
He concludes that "a number of the 'metaphors' that L&J and others identify may well not metaphors at all" (p. 190). He doesn't seem to have a clear account of how one could test "metaphoricity" himself, though.

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