Thursday, May 23, 2013

McGlone: "What is the explanatory value of conceptual metaphor" (2007)

Matthew McGlone is one of the staunchest critics of cognitive metaphor theory, and in this 2007 paper, he reiterates a number of the arguments he has given in the past.

These arguments are roughly the following:


If our knowledge of abstract objects (like social relationships) were really derived from our knowledge of concrete objects (like heat, distance, and containers), then we would not be able to see the difference between the two (p. 114). This is a problem also pointed out by by Gregory Murphy (1996).

More generally, the stronger the claim of cognitive metaphor theory becomes, the weirder it becomes that we can distinguish, say, theories from actual buildings. In an interesting spin on this, McGlone considers the sentence

  • My recent trip to L.A. was a rollercoaster ride (p. 122)

This is a conceptualization of a journey in terms of a journey—and so, it seems weird that we can recognize it as a metaphor, and that we don't draw literal rollercoaster inferences about the journey from this sentence.


He takes Keysar and Bly's 1995 study on false etymologies as evidence for the fact that our sense of linguistic coherence may be "illusory" (p. 115). He further supports this fact by citing other folk etymologies that are known to be false.


All the very good arguments made in his own 1996 paper on the topic are repeated (p. 117). This relates to paraphrase, reading speed, and recall.


The aptness data from Nayak and Gibbs (1990) and can be explained as an effect of stylistic coherence rather than cognitive facilitiation. Further, when Glucksberg et al. (1993) tested the stories for actual reading facilitation effects, they found none. In this connection, he also considers and rejects the recall data from Albritton et al. (1995) because they failed to control for lexical priming.


On a slightly different note, his own experiment in McGlone and Harding (1998) found that people read the ambiguous sentence the meeting was moved forward in a way that is consistent with the metaphor used in the preceding discourse (p. 120):
  • We passed the deadline two days ago. The meeting originally scheduled for next Wednesday has been moved forward two days [i.e., to Friday].
  • The deadline passed two days ago. The meeting originally scheduled for next Wednesday has been moved forward two days [i.e., to Monday].
 This is consistent with cognitive metaphor theory, but also with the theory that there is a more abstract super-structure which subsumes both time and space. He finds this latter suggestion "epistemologically more plausible" and suggests that perhaps the common features of time and space are "simply more transparent in spatial language than in other linguistic domains" (with a reference to Talmy 1996).


Lastly, he cites the reading time study by Keysar et al. (2000) which found that there was no significant difference between the facilitation effect of conventional and non-conventional metaphors.

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