Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Gibbs: The Poetics of Mind, ch. 4 (1994)

Chapter 4 of Raymond Gibbs' book contains some very, very long discussions of the use of metaphor in various domains as well as some evidence.

The chapter is by far the longest in the book (one and a half time longer than chapter 5, the second longest) and makes up around 20% of the whole text.

However, only 6 out of a total of 87 pages in the chapter are used to present psychological evidence for his cognitive claims (pp. 161-67). Much of this evidence is the same as that which he presents in chapter 6.

In the last section before the conclusion of the chapter, Gibbs addresses the objections against cognitive metaphor theory that Naomi Quinn raised in 1991.

Structure of the chapter
Chapter 4 of Poetics of Mind has the following sections and subsections:
  1. Metaphor in language (pp. 122-145)
    1. The ubiquity of metaphor (pp. 122-124)
    2. The communicative functions of metaphor (pp. 124-134)
    3. Social functions of figurative language (pp. 134-140)
    4. Metaphor and politics (pp. 140-145)
  2. The Metaphorical structure of everyday thought (pp. 146-206)
    1. Systematicity of literal expressions (pp. 146-154)
    2. Novel extensions of conventional metaphor (pp. 154-157)
    3. Polysemy (pp. 157-161)
    4. Psychological evidence (pp. 161-167)
    5. An alternative to metaphor in thought and language (pp. 167-169)
    6. Metaphor in science (pp. 169-179)
    7. Metaphor in law (pp. 179-183)
    8. Metaphor in art (pp. 183-187)
    9. Metaphor and myth (pp. 187-192)
    10. Metaphor in culture (pp. 192-206)
  3. Conclusion (p. 207)
Below, I will summarize the contents of each of these sections. Following that, I will also zoom in on two particular subsections and comment on the arguments given in those.

Contents of the chapter
Here's a brief telegraphic summary of what each section contains:
  1. Unnamed introduction: People use metaphor a lot.
  2. Metaphor in language
    1. The ubiquity of metaphor: Some quantitative estimates of how many metaphors a person produces per minute of conversation -- a somewhat meaningless number from my perspective.
    2. The communicative functions of metaphor: People use metaphors in order to be more expressive, compact, and vivid. Further, "metaphors facilitate prose comprehension" (p. 131). They are also easier to remember (p. 132).
    3. Social functions of figurative language: Language signals group membership.
    4. Metaphor and politics: People talk about politics in terms of war, sport, etc.
  3. The Metaphorical structure of everyday thought: "The ubiquity of metaphor in everyday discourse is not due to sophisticated rhetorical abilities of ordinary speakers; rather, it is motivated by the [sic] persuasiveness of metaphor in everyday thought" (p. 146).
    1. Systematicity of literal expressions: Expressions form thematic clusters. Conceptual mappings can be ordered in a hierarchy of generality (p. 152).
    2. Novel extensions of conventional metaphor: Elaborations of metaphors in poetry count as "evidence for the metaphoric nature of everyday thought" (p. 154)
    3. Polysemy: Claudia Brugman and George Lakoff's analysis of over also counts as "evidence for the metaphorical nature of thought" (p. 157).
    4. Psychological evidence: See below.
    5. An alternative to metaphor in thought and language: Gibbs mentions Jackendoff's theory as an alternative to cognitive metaphor theory, but doesn't really discuss the difference in any depth.
    6. Metaphor in science: Some Kuhnian observations. Also, a reference to an interesting 1985 historical study that Dedre Gentner and Jonathan Grudin did of the change in metaphors in psychology.
    7. Metaphor in law: Essentially a long reference to Winter (1989).
    8. Metaphor in art: Film and painting use cognitive mappings, too (e.g., Magritte).
    9. Metaphor and myth: Myth use path metaphors etc.
    10. Metaphor in culture: References to Claudia Brugman's 1983 paper on Mixtec and Quinn's 1991 paper on marriage. See also below.
  4. Conclusion: "[M]etaphor is a fundamental mental capacity by which people understand themselves and the world through the conceptual mapping of knowledge from one domain onto another" (p. 207).
Psychological evidence
The subsection on psychological evidence (pp. 161-167) puts forward the following types of data:
  1. The classroom study by Dedre Gentner and Donald R. Gentner (1983) showed that whether students were taught about electricity in terms of water metaphors or crowd metaphors would affect their performance on subsequent tests (p. 162).
  2. People form mental images of idioms that are consistent with the words in the idiom; this allegedly contrasts with literal sentences, although no evidence is given for that claim (p. 163).
  3. Priming subjects with an instance of a conceptual mapping allowed for more rapid reading of another instance of the same metaphor in one of Gibb's studies (p. 163).
  4. When people are interviewed about the cause, volition, and manner of literal explosions, they make the same judgments as they do for metaphorical explosions (pp. 163-164).
  5. Gesture studies show, according to Gibbs, that metaphor precedes speech (pp. 164-167).
Some Comments on "Cognitive Topology"
The interview studies mentioned in point 4 are a strange and dubious thing to cite for a cognitive psychologist. In Gibbs' mind, these "reflected mappings of source to target domains that preserved the cognitive topology of the source domain" (p. 163).

The reason is that if you ask someone whether a bomb explodes out of its own accord, they say "no," and if you ask someone whether people explode with anger out of their own accord, they also say "no". Hence, metaphor preserves "cognitive topology," according to his logic.

Lucky that Gibbs didn't ask about the speed, consequences, or reach of explosions instead, one might add."When a person explodes with anger, does he push the air away from him in a sudden shockwave?" "When a person explodes with anger, do people risk shrapnel wounds?" His findings proves more about his methods than about cognition.

Some Comments on the Gesture Studies
The gesture data that Gibbs cites as evidence for his cognitive metaphor theory is really bizarre. Much of it is hardly interpretable as metaphorical, and when it is, it doesn't correlate with speech in any simple way.

Let's look at the examples he quotes from David McNeil (1992), as there are only a few. This will give a sense of how thin the evidence is. Here they are, with slight changes in typography:
  • It was a Sylvester and Tweety cartoon
    hands rising to offer an object (p. 165)
  • I want to ask you a question
    hand forms a cup (p. 165)
  • That book is packed with meaning
    one hand pushes against the palm of the other (p. 166)
  • I've got to tell you something.
    palm-up hand moves toward hearer (p. 166)
  • He's trying to masquerade
    both hands spread out and forward with a rotation (p. 167)
I can see that the example with packed with meaning might be taken as support for cognitive metaphor theory if the subject did indeed cram an imaginary object tightly into a container. But how on earth does Gibbs come to see the other cases as "evidence"?

Since when has cognitive metaphor theory related cups to questions? No one has reported that people use phrases like hand you a cup to mean "asking," not has anyone speculated that they might. It seems that these new gesture idioms can only be explained if we postulate a whole new set of mappings to deal with the new modality. That makes gesture data irrelevant as evidence for mappings underneath speech.

This point to the general problem that cognitive metaphor should first commit itself to a single model of what hangs together in the cognitive universe, and only then predict that this structure will be found in language, too. For instance, how are the concepts of speed, certainty, difficulty, hardness, and tallness related in cognition? After you've committed yourself to an answer to that question, cognitive metaphor theory will produce a prediction regarding speech.

Gibbs vs. Quinn
Naomi Quinn has objected to cognitive metaphor theory on the grounds that although people use a whole range of different incoherent metaphors to talk about marriage, they actually live in a pretty stable and coherent way. Often, they will even try out different verbal metaphors to find one that betters fits what they want to express. This constitutes evidence that culture precedes metaphor.

In the section headed "Metaphor in culture", Gibbs replies to this by saying that Quinn's analysis "confuses metaphor with idealized cognitive models" (p. 204). His idea of how an "Idealized Cognitive Model" can be both metaphorical and non-metaphorical at the same time is quite confusing, so I have to quote it at some length:
[...] there may possibly be one general cognitive or cultural model for marriage, just in the way Quinn suggests, that is motivated by a cluster of contiguous conceptual metaphors. The variety of expressions people use to speak of marriage reflect their different conceptual metaphors for different aspects of their experience of marriage. Yet the variety of expressions do not mean that there is not some sort of cultural model of marriage based on a complex configuration of different types of conceptual metaphors. [...] As is the case for anger, people use different metaphors, even within the same narrative, because each metaphor reflects a different aspect of their metaphorical understanding of some experience. One's cognitive model of marriage may consist of various metaphors that capture different aspects of our understanding of marriage, such as compatibility, mutual benefit, and lastingness. These metaphors may be contiguously linked, perhaps as a kind of radial structure, yet need not be internally consistent. For example, we may at times see marriage as being a container but at other times as being like a manufactured product. (pp. 204-205)
The best I can do in terms of interpretation is to say that Gibbs imagines that we have a chimera of metaphors in our head, so that marriage might have pigeon wings but a lion head. This doesn't explain how people can use two distinct metaphors for the same aspect (the head is both pigeon and lion?). It also doesn't explain how the conflicts between inconsistent metaphors are resolved.

Quinn's theory, on the other hand, is quite simple: People have a cultural model which is not a metaphor, and they then choose metaphors to express aspects of that model. It is revealing how this simple model contrasts with the "complex configuration" that Gibbs proposes.

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