Monday, December 5, 2011

"Cognitive Semantics: In the Heart of Language" (1998)

This is an interview with George Lakoff from the first-ever issue of Brazilian journal Fórum Lingüistico, published by the institute for linguistics at the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina. It was conducted by Roberta Pires de Oliveira.

The interview is notable for containing both some quite frank and some quite revealing assertions by Lakoff.

It is unfortunately quite badly transcribed. For instance, Pamela Morgan is identified as "Helena Morgan," (p. 106), and Lakoff's paper in Andrew Ortony's book Metaphor and Thought becomes "my paper on Ortony's book" (p. 108, my emphasis).

Below is a collection of some of the more striking quotes from the interview, sorted according to theme.

The Ricoeur connection:
Mark Johnson had studied with Paul Ricoeur. So he knew the Ricoeur tradition and the continental tradition and had come to the conclusion, through working with Ricoeur that metaphor was central to thought. But I wasn't at all influenced by that tradition. What influenced me was the discovery that ordinary, everyday thought and language, and specially ordinary everyday thought, is structured metaphorically. That was the major discovery. (p. 89)
The partial order:
It [= cognitive metaphor theory] says that we have basic concepts that arise from our direct interaction with the world and they are not metaphorical, and then we have metaphorical projections of those to more abstract concepts. (p. 91)
With respect to "big babies" and scaffolding:
Piaget saw that the understanding of, for example, causation came out of a child's dropping things. I think that's correct. But Piaget also thought that if you advance from one stage, then you left behind the other stage. This seems to be false. He thought that there was a higher stage of abstract thinking, and that seems to be false. The details are very unpiagetian when you think of the rest of Piaget's work. (p. 96-97)
The Universal Body:
Yes, there are universal concepts. There are universal metaphors, universal aspects of language, because we all have very similar bodies and our physical experiences in the world are very similar. Those are where universals come from. (p. 98)
Inherent structure:
There's a structure that is independent of any particular metaphor of love. It may not be a very rich one. It may not be a highly structured concept... When you have a lover, a beloved, an emotional relationship, a positive emotional relationship, and lots and lots of types of complex feelings, but it may not be structured enough to reason with then you have lots of metaphors that allow you to conceptualize love in terms of other kinds of experiences. (p. 103)
You have to take into account target domain overrides. [...] The target domain override is a case where the mapping is carried through with contradicting internal structures of the target domain. (p. 107-08)
There's also an extremely embarrassing moment on pp. 106-07, when Lakoff shrugs of a counterexample to one of his claims by saying that a particular set of metaphors is just "linguistic expressions, not mappings," apparently without noticing his own blatant methodological inconsistency. He further goes on to imply that if a metaphor isn't universal, it doesn't really count.

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