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Metaphor and Metonymy as Cognitive Phenomena

Metaphor and Metonymy as Cognitive Phenomena

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Dara Lau. Originally submitted for Figurative Language at University of Edinburgh, with lecturer Graeme Trousdale in the category of Languages & Linguistics
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Dara Lau. Originally submitted for Figurative Language at University of Edinburgh, with lecturer Graeme Trousdale in the category of Languages & Linguistics

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
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Far from being figures restricted to literary texts with no relevance toeveryday conversation, both metaphor and meonymy are pragmatically,semantically, and syntactically important. By mapping an unfamiliar domainto a familiar one, metaphor allows us to structure our understanding of theunfamiliar domain, while metonymy focuses our attention on a particular characteristic of the target (the effect of which might be seen in thesyntactic phenomena of anaphoric reference to metonyms being restricted to the matrix domain whatever the direction of metonymic mapping); suchmappings once conventionalized allow semantic change to occur, or are grammaticalized into new syntactic constructions such as the middleconstruction. It cannot be doubted that both are cognitive phenomenainstead of purely linguistic ones, though their influence on our cognitionmight be clearly seen in the varied influences they have on our language.
While metaphor and metonymy is popularly recognized as classic figures of speechwith little or no relevance to everyday conversation, linguistic research inspired by Lakoffand Johnson’s memorable
 Metaphors We Live By 
have seen shown plenty of evidence tothe contrary. Panther and Thornburg claim for metonymy semantic, pragmatic, andsyntactic importance; this essay will attempt judge this claim with regard to both metonymyand metaphor.Silva Rhetoricae defines metaphor as “a comparison made by referring to one thingas another”, and metonymy as “reference to something or someone by naming one of itsattributes”. While these definitions work well in identifying figures of speech, however, theyobscure the conceptual processes which lead but are not restricted to these (linguistic)phenomena. Comic depictions of angry people, for example, are often variations on thetheme of the metaphor ANGER IS HEAT (for example by depicting an internal anger-meterin the form of a thermometer approaching boiling point, by drawing smoke
coming out ofthe head, or by utilising a further visual metaphor HEAT IS RED and depicting them with ared face, as seen in Appendix 1). Even in real life, Bolinger (1975: 21f.) notes thatinstinctive gestures such as laughter tend to synechodize
. In addition, the proposition of a
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We might take this to be stemming from a further metonymy EFFECT FOR CAUSE, where over-heating is indicated by its possible effect (smoking) on an entity.
Using only part of the motions (e.g. curling up the lips) to stand for the entire gesture (e.g.laughter) would be a kind of gestural synecdoche, which as part-for-whole mappings belong under metonymy.
sentence could be metonymic without actually having an explicit source or target, as inPanther and Thornburg’s (2007: 247) example “she was able to convince the board oftrustees”, with the same propositional metonymy ABILITY FOR ACTUALITY as the NP“her ability to convince the board of trustees”. In order to account for these linguistic andnon-linguistic phenomena together, therefore, definitions that refer to the cognitiveprocesses behind them are necessary. I will therefore refer for the rest of this essay(unless otherwise stated) to Ruiz de Mendoza and Hernandez
’s definition of metonymy as“a domain
-internal one-correspondence conceptual mapping where the matrix domain canbe either the source of the target of the mapping and where the target domain is a non-central characterization of the source” (2001: 327) and Lakoff and Johnson
’s (1980:84)characterization of metaphor as having different domains for the source and target as wellas “partial structuring
”.M&H (2001:324) further point out that there are two distinct types of metaphor, onewith many-correspondence mapping, and another with one-correspondence mapping. Itmight be noted that the first type refers to the type of metaphor that is discussed in the bulkof MWLB, where two separate domains are systematically related to each other throughthe metaphor; novelmetaphors of the latter type are hardly mentioned in MWLB, whileconventional ones like “the
of a mountain” (emphasis in original) are described as“idiosyncratic, unsystematic, and isolated”, and “play no particularly interesting role in ourconceptual system” (MWLB 54–55). One must note, however, that the kind of stereotypicalmetaphorused in folk definitions
are often one-correspondence metaphors, such as"America is a melting pot" (Urban Dictionary, the only example sentence that actuallycontains a metaphor), or “he is a pig” (Wikipedia). Much of the discussion on metaphor
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Hereafter M&H.
M&H’s ‘matrix domain’ refers to the ‘main’ domain within which the other is situated.
This book hereafter referred to as MWLB.
i.e. Selective mapping between domains.
Generally following the construction “X is a Y”.
understanding, conceptualization, and other cognitive significance in MWLB, therefore, isinapplicable to the type of metaphor most salient to the general population.However, as M&H discuss, one-correspondence metaphors also have a pragmaticfunction: describing the target using a quintessential characteristic of the source. MWLB(36) assigns essentially the same as a (secondary) function
to metonymies, which lendscredence to M&H’s (2001:325) claims that 1) metaphor and metonymy differ only inwhether the mappings are domain-external or -internal
, and 2) the preferred referentialfunction of metonymies (which one-correspondence metaphors could also perform, butmany-correspondence metaphors could not) stem from their one-correspondencemapping.While the function of one-correspondence metaphor and metonymy is thus mainlyrelated to utterance production (predication and reference), it is generally agreed thatMWLB’s systems of metaphors mainly allow easier structuring of and reasoning about aless familiar (e.g. because it is more abstract) domain through selective mapping to a morefamiliar one (MWLB 61 ff., M&H 324, Feldman 2006: 194, Croft and Cruse 2004: 207 ff.).MWLB (89 ff.) goes further by suggesting that for concepts where one general metaphorisn’t enough (the ‘selective mapping’ requirement seems to suggest this is a possibility forevery metaphorically conceptualized concept), we use others to define it further, and thatthere is generally coherence among the whole system of metaphors, which may also serveto facilitate understanding and reasoning. Perhaps one of the best examples would be theuse of mathematics to explain and reason in physics: there is no intuitive connectionbetween mass and energy, and even less between mass and the speed of light, forexample, but their relationship is expressed using E=mc
a simple and easily manipulated
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However, given M&H’s (2001: 325) argumentation on how one-correspondence mapping raises thereferential potential of the target (by conceptual enrichment), one might say that the metonym’s‘primary function’ of reference according to MWLB actually arises from this ‘secondary function’.
This claim could also account for the difference in preferred function between metonymy and one-correspondence metaphor; use of an external domain in metaphor suggests the resulting descriptionwas not previously seen as a particular characteristic of the target, resulting in predication; for metonymy, however, since one of the domains is already inside the other, implies that the relevantcharacteristic was already known to be appropriate to the target, and so could be used to identify said target, leading to a referential use.

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