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Truth Conditional Semantics in Igbo Metaphor

Truth Conditional Semantics in Igbo Metaphor

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A study in Igbo metaphor using the theoretical framework of truth conditional semantics (TCS) as originally designed for philosophy by Tarski (1933) and applied to linguistics by David Donaldson in 1967.
A study in Igbo metaphor using the theoretical framework of truth conditional semantics (TCS) as originally designed for philosophy by Tarski (1933) and applied to linguistics by David Donaldson in 1967.

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Published by: Ogechukwu Nneji Miracle on Sep 12, 2011
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The Igbo Metaphor: A Study in Truth Conditional Semantics Nneji, Ogechukwu Miracle ogechukwumiracle@yahoo.

com, +2348063622121 Department of Linguistics Igbo and Other Nigerian Languages, Unigersity of Nigeria, Nsukka Abstract The complexity of the word ‘meaning’ has led to the devotion of a whole subfield of linguistics (semantics) to its study and analysis. The meaning of an utterance is said to be its truth conditions, which are assumed to be established by two components: syntactical structure and the referents of structureless terms. On this backdrop, this paper studies an aspect of semantics originally discussed by Tarski as Truth Conditional Semantics and how it applies to the Igbo language metaphorical expressions. The use theory of meaning which claims that the meaning of an entity is what the society gives it forms the framework for the study. The paper argues that Truth Conditional Semantics is not descriptively adequate and therefore not a good criterion for determining the truth in a sentence or proposition. This argument is evident in the failure of this semantic theory to provide the truth conditions of metaphors. The paper supports the opinion of Searle that sentence meaning is different from utterance meaning citing several examples from the Igbo language which leads to our conclusion that truth conditional semantics can only offer the sentence or literal meaning of utterances and not their utterance meanings. It therefore recommends that truth conditional semantics should not be seen as the sole determinant of the truth or otherwise of any linguistic statement since it does not apply to natural languages.


Introduction The semantic conception of truth which is related in different ways to both the

correspondence and deflationary conceptions is due to the work published by Tarski in 1933. The correspondence theory of truth has it that the truth or otherwise of a statement is only determined by how it relates to the world, and whether it accurately describes that world. Davidson’s (1978) deflationary theory, supported by Searle (1993) on the other hand, is one of such theories which claim that assertions predicating the truth of a statement do not attribute a property called truth to such a statement. This means that there is no special category of metaphorical meaning distinct from literal meaning.

Truth Conditional Semantics (TCS) is an approach to semantic theory principally associated with Tarski but later developed by, and applied to language by the British philosopher Donald Davidson in Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation published in 1984.

Truth Conditional theories attempt to provide the meaning of a given proposition by explaining the conditions that make the proposition true or otherwise. In the study of meaning, Truth Condition (TC) is what obtains when a proposition is true. In whatever theory that discusses meaning, the central idea is truth, of which sentences or utterances of the sentences are the bearers. The guiding principle is that the meaning of a sentence is given by its truth conditions. Taken in the most general terms, semantics relates the extra linguistic world to the linguistic expressions that describe it. It has often been said (Steinhart, 1994) that metaphors are based on analogies but its nature is yet to be made precise. Wikipedia quotes Aristotle as defining metaphor as “is the
application of a strange term either transferred from the genus and applied to the species or from the species and applied to the genus, or from one species to another or else by analogy.” However, a

metaphor is more active than an analogy. An analogy is a comparison between two things that are similar in some way, often used to help explain something or make it easier to understand. Metaphor has been defined in terms of conceptual similarity since classical antiquity. Sequel to the above, this paper studies the TC of Igbo metaphors in order to find out if this theory really applies to them. The use theory which views the meaning of a word as dependent in the way it is used has been advanced in different forms by behaviourist psychologists such as Skinner (1957), linguists such as Bloomfield (1933), and Wittgenstein (1953). Proponents of this theory believe that the explanatory task of semantics is to provide a concrete not abstract characterization of meaning whether interpreted as concepts or denotations. To Skinner (1957:5), “what happens when a man speaks or responds to speech is clearly a question about human behaviour.” The best way to respond is to offer a clear account of what linguistic behaviour is likely to be produced in different situations. For Bloomfield (1933:139), the meaning of a word is contained in “the situation in which the speaker utters it and the response which it calls forth in the hearer.” Use theory,

therefore, describes the actual situation in which language is spoken or written. It is this theory that shall form the backdrop for this study since metaphorical expressions cannot be defined in isolation of the contexts in which they are used. The paper is divided into three sections covering the introduction which sets the stage for the study, an overview of TCS which houses the theoretical and empirical studies, analysis of Igbo metaphor using TCS, findings and conclusion, and possibly recommendations. We shall use the acronyms LM and MM for literal meaning and metaphorical meaning respectively in this work. 2.1 Truth Conditional Semantics: An Overview Ogden and Richards (1923) provide the definition of the word ‘mean’ in twenty-three different ways. This to say that meaning of a word is very problematic to define. The problems encountered in the attempt to define meaning led to the assertion that meaning is context dependent. In other words, it varies from one syntactic slot to another. The meaning or sense of an expression, as observed by Lyons (1977), is a sole property of language and is not to be equated with the object or concept the expression may be used to refer to. There are two generally accepted theories of metaphor – Aristotelian comparison theory which basically reduces a metaphor to unstated simile and semantic interaction theory which posits an interaction between the expression used metaphorically and the surrounding literal context. We shall find out if any of these two theories can help us define and determine the truth conditions of metaphor in the Igbo language. Truth conditional or verificationist theory claims that to determine the meaning of a word, one has to verify whether the attributes associated with the word are true. If they are, then the meaning holds otherwise it crash-lands. Tarski (1933) formulates an exemplum of the propositional content of the theory thus: “snow is white if and only if snow is white”. If on verification, snow is not white, then the sentence has no meaning.

Although there are varying ideas behind the TC theory, and how a theory of semantics is expected to provide them, all leading versions of this approach agree that the primary task of a theory of meaning is to specify the truth condition of sentences. According to Mius (2010), truth is a relation between a statement and the reality about the statement. He further observes that the correspondence between statement and reality need not be complete; it does not require that every statement represents an element of reality or that every element of reality is represented in the statement. Kempson (1977:24) observes that Tarski’s classic example and formula – Snow is white is true if and only if snow is white (represented as S is true iff P) – which contains the name of the sentence and the sentence itself could be “quite misleading if taken at face value as a simple pairing of a sequence of strings which make up the sentence with the sentence itself”. With this statement, one can deduce Kempson’s position on the deficiency of TCS. This position means that to understand the true meaning of a statement, one should not just depend on the pair which envelopes both the name of the sentence and the sentence itself. It has often been said that metaphors and analogies are related. Steinhart (1994) is of the opinion that metaphors are produced and understood using analogy rules. On this premise, metaphor can be defined as a figure of speech in which a word or a phrase is applied to an object or an action to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest similarity. It is a thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else, especially something abstract. It is an implied comparison. If metaphor is understood as involving a gap between the conventional meaning of words and their occasion-specific use, its analysis would appear to fall largely within the domain of pragmatics rather than semantics. But if we think of metaphor as somehow continuous with literal speech, then semantics earns a pride of place and thus pragmatics becomes parasitic upon semantic analysis. Pragmatics has a close affinity with metaphor because it contributes to the

understanding of metaphor. This is evident in the fact that a sentence can have dramatically different metaphorical interpretations in different contexts. If a figurative expression is used and it lacks no understanding, then the sole aim of using it is defeated. In as much as metaphor and semantics are related in terms of meaning, the former admits ambiguity because it does not place a boundary where meaning should start and where it should end. As an example, ‘all the world is a stage...’ Here the speaker sees beyond ‘world’ and sees ‘stage’. The metaphor itself does not specify in what ways the world and stage are similar and in what ways they are different. This is where ambiguity comes in. (http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?WhatIsMetaphor). Searle (1993:110) summarizes the differences between sentence meaning and utterance meaning using the following graphs. We shall repeat it here for ease of reference. Fig 1: Sentence meaning vs. Utterance meaning.

P, R P S








Sentence Meaning

Utterance Meaning

Where the Sentence meaning is S is P and Utterance meaning is S is R


The meaning of a sentence is indeed different from the meaning of an utterance. While the former is more literal, interpreting the meanings of component words the way they appear, the latter goes beyond that to consider the context that warrants a particular speech activity, talking about the circumstances that can bring about that speech. Looking at Fig 1, one sentence can be used to deduce the meaning of many utterances. From this explanation, a distinction is drawn between semantics and pragmatics. While sentence meaning is the domain of semantics, utterance meaning is the hallmark of pragmatics. According to Levinson (1983), for an utterance to be properly interpreted, there is dire need for an explicit characterization of context. Onuigbo (2001) observes that the need for this characterization is that it helps to distinguish between potential and actual situations of utterances. The actual situation of an utterance which is of interest here, selects those features that are culturally, socially and linguistically relevant to the production and interpretation of a given utterance. Riemer (2010) notes that the utterance of a statement, just like the performance of an illocutionary act like promising, involves both speaker and hearer in a network of commitments and consequences which imply certain things about their current states and beliefs, and commit them to certain future actions. We shall apply this in a later section of this paper. Riemer’s position goes further to buttress the fact that sentence meaning and utterance meaning are two sides of the same coin. 2.2 Empirical studies Andrews (2001) marks a clear distinction between TCS and representational semantics (RS). According to him, both are usually represented as opposed to research programs in Natural Language Semantics (NLS). He argues that the relationship is more complex than this NLS saying that TCS is strongly associated with realist philosophical position about meaning, whereby the meanings of utterances are held to involve relationships

between utterances and their parts on one hand, and things in the world on the other hand. He further goes on to say that in contrast, RS consists of relationships between the overt forms of utterances and their parts, and mind-internal entities such as semantic representation. He concludes that since the ultimate aim of generative grammar is a better understanding of the underlying factors of language learning and use, one should not subscribe to very rigid opinions about the directions from which enlightenment could come or the form it might take. Since it is only by being representational that anything becomes a candidate for being true or false, let us quickly x-ray the opinion of Soames (2010:69) that structured propositions of the familiar sort don’t have truth conditions on their own. We can, of course, treat them as objects to be interpreted. But if this just means endowing them with meaning in the way we endow formulas of an uninterpreted language with meaning—by using a truth theory to assign them truth conditions—then our account of the representational content of propositions will be little better than the failed theories of the truth conditions of sentences that pose as theories of their meanings. This assertion equally affects metaphor since they cannot be represented using Tarski’s formula – S is P iff Y. We therefore conclude and recommend that TCS should not be treated as a super-power in determining the meaning of linguistic utterances and a better theory of meaning should be sought to replace it. Soames’s position is not different from that of Kamp and Reyle (1993). According to them, it is natural to see the world-directed, truth-value determining aspect of meaning as central; and, consequently, to see it as one of the central obligations of a theory of meaning to explain how meaning manifests itself in the determination of truth and falsity since they are of such paramount importance, and since it is in virtue of their meaning that thoughts and utterances can be distinguished into those that are true and those that are false. Studying the truth of metaphorical God-talk, Mius (2010) observes that metaphorical God-talk can be both descriptive and true. According to the study, one can ground


metaphorical God-talk on revelation and maintain a concept of truth as correspondence. He poses certain rhetorical questions: Can we specify the conditions which have to be met by the statement in order to be true? And how could we know whether this correspondence holds or not? Can we specify the criteria for the truth of a metaphorical statement? If this were impossible, metaphors could not be true and cognitive and only express subjective views and perspectives, Mius (2010:155).

He summarizes the study by saying that the truth condition of metaphorical God-talk is the God who has revealed himself in Christ, and its truth is a partial correspondence with the transcendent creator. To Oluikpe and Anasiudu (2006), a metaphor is a way of speaking in which an expression denoting one thing, quality or action is applied to another in the form of a statement of identity instead of comparison. In their study, they observe that most of the Nigerian English slang expressions emanated from metaphoric usage and present the following examples among others. Adult dose Dinning hall badge Free barber - ‘a large quantity of food’ - ‘a stain of oil on one’s clothing usually got while eating’ - ‘ringworm’

Over the years, the tendency has been there to associate metaphor essentially with literary creativity. Ude (1998:98) quotes some literary artists and critics who have amplified the significance of metaphor as a creative force. He quotes Aristotle as saying that “the greatest thing by far is to have a command of metaphor” and Chesterton as submitting that “all metaphor is poetry” an intelligent assertion but there is more to metaphor in communicative language use. The latter is evident in Carney (1983), Searle (1993), Steinhart (1994), Mbah (2001), Onuigbo (2001), and Mius (2010) where metaphor is applied to language not poetry. Onuigbo (2001:14) notes that “metaphor is not only central to poetry but

also and to a very large extent, to ordinary language use.” He goes further to note the problem of metaphor in language use as being “the tendency to subject metaphorical expression to standard semantic interpretative processes.” In her analysis, Kempson (1977:25) presents an example of Tarski’s TCS and outlines the problems associated with it. She considers a sentence such as a boy hurried to his home. According to her, an attempt to explain this sentence will result in a presumption that some individual who had the qualities which we usually attribute to boys like being male and not adult went to a place where he lived with a particular fast kind of movement which we characterize as hurrying. Consider this instance from Kempson (1977:70). a) b) You are the cream in my coffee. You are the cream in my coffee if and only if (iff) you are the cream in my coffee. In 1, ‘you’ refers to a human being who is being described as a cream in someone’s coffee. We know that cream is something that makes coffee tastier, and more inviting. There is possibly no way an entity which is + animate and + human can serve as a cream in a coffee cup. Therefore, the truth condition of 1 is the ability of the referent to be very close and into perhaps a romantic relationship with the speaker. Mbah (2001) agrees with Kempson (1977) that TCS is descriptively inadequate. She observes that this is due largely to the fact that both linguistic and paralinguistic features like stress, figures of speech and human thought processes cannot be properly accounted for in the TCS. She argues in her study that the method and emphasis of TCS do not clearly apply to meaning of natural languages.


Anand (2007) summarizes the aim of TCS using the two research goals due to Frege. According to him, the meaning of sentence is its truth conditions, that is, to know the meaning of a sentence is to know how the world would have to be for the sentence to be true. Furthermore, he says that the meaning of an expression is a function of meanings of its parts.


Truth Condition of Igbo Metaphors Since we have agreed that metaphor is a direct reference of something to another

thing as if that is really what it is, let us in this section, critically examine selected Igbo metaphors and their possible truth conditions to see if this type of semantic theory can actually apply to metaphorical constructions. Consider coming into one of your children’s room with everywhere scattered with books, clothes and other materials. The room looks so untidy that you just spontaneously voice out: 1) Emeka bx ezi Emeka is a pig (LM) Emeka is unhygienic (MM) An outsider or a third party who does not understand the situation that warranted that statement will definitely understand it that Emeka is a pig. This is not to say that Emeka is a four-legged domestic animal, but the feature of dirtiness which pigs are known for is the attribute being given to Emeka in this case. At other cases, Emeka may be something else. In 2, an entity which by using componential analysis is +human is being described as –human, +animal. 2) Ngqz[ bx agwq Ngqz[ is a snake (LM) Ngqz[ is deceptive (MM)

This is due largely to the fact that Ngqz[ has displayed a character of deception which is associated more to an animal than a human being. Therefore, deducing the truth condition of 2 will be difficult since nothing will reduce Ngoz[ to a snake. Consider example 3. 3) Xwa bx ah[a The world is a market place (LM) The world is a stage (MM)

The literal meaning of the sentence depicts the world as a market place where anybody can come in to perform different kinds of activities ranging from buying, selling, and so on. However, when you move from the stage of literal meaning, other meanings will be deduced from the statement which makes it metaphorical. For instance, saying that the world is a stage could mean a place where people come and go, appear and disappear at different times with different missions from their chi; not being a permanent home for anybody. Is there a way TCS can be applied to 3? Insisting on a truth condition for 3 will give rise to a kind of semantic crisis. This type of crisis may arise when you have a structure like 3b. The case of 3b is another proof that the truth conditions of linguistic utterances are not enough to determine their meanings. 3b) 4) The world is a market place iff the world is a market place. Q bx eriri qkaz[ He/she is qkaz[ rope (LM) He/she is too thin (MM) The picture we have in 4 on the surface level is that of a person being referred to as qkaz[ rope. Qkaz[ is a type of vegetable whose stem is very tiny. The condition that will warrant likening a human being to qkaz[ rope is indeed an extreme one. This sentence is quite different from using either ‘like’ or ‘as’ but makes a direct reference to that person as an qkaz[ rope. A situation where ‘like’ or ‘as’ is employed to compare two things that are hitherto different, exemplifies the use of simile. Applying Tarski’s TCS will not make this sentence to be true because even a new born baby cannot be slim to the extent of becoming

an qkaz[ rope. This is one of the short-comings of TCS. This is not different from the situation in 5. 5) Obodo bx igwe Country is iron (LM) Things are hard (MM) One can say that sentence 5 is wrong looking at the gloss ‘country is iron’. First of all, there is no direct reference to the entity called country. The word ‘country’ is an abstraction. Arguing from the referential standpoint that anything that does not have a reference has no meaning, country has no meaning and cannot be ascertained either to be iron or not. As such, can we confidently say that country is iron if and only if country is iron? No. This is another area where TCS has failed in its pursuit to account for meaning. 6) Obi bx mbe Obi is a tortoise (LM) Obi is cunning (MM) In example 6, Obi is likened to tortoise ‘mbe’ because he has exhibited the character of craftiness and cunningness usually associated with the tortoise. This does not mean that Obi moves on the ground with a hard shell on his back as a shield. It is a metaphorical statement whose meaning will only be appreciated when approached from the analysis in Fig 1 above. 7) Ugonne bx ichooku Ugonne is a parrot (LM) Ugonne is talktative (MM) Of a truth, applying TCS to any of these sentences is a no mean task since we have tried to differentiate between sentence meaning and utterance meaning. Metaphorical meaning is the same as the speaker’s utterance meaning. The same applies to examples 8-11. 8) Xwad[nfe nwere qnx xtq Xwad[nfe has sweet mouth (LM).

Xwad[nfe has a way with words (MM). One can say that in 8, Xwad[nfe has a way of convincing his audience to do things they would not ordinarily have done using his mouth. He uses his ‘sweet mouth’ to borrow things (especially money) from his neighbours after which he will refuse to pay them. This scenario brings about the situation in 9. 9) { ga-etiri ego g[ n’qkpq You will beat out your money from blow (LM). You will only get your money back through violence (MM). No matter the amount of force one applies in 9, one’s money will never come out. But the sentence is used metaphorically to say that there is no money. However looking at it from the literal meaning, one may think that one is being given an invitation to fight over one’s money in order to get it back. 10) Oroma ahx bx shuga That orange is sugar (LM). That orange is sweet (MM). The use of sugar as an attribute to orange indicates how sweet the orange is. This does not mean that there is a semantic relationship between sugar and orange. However, the two words are used as an indication that the fruit in question is very sweet. The truth condition of this sentence, therefore is the ability of the orange to be sweet and not literally ‘sugar’. 11) Nne Okoro bx nwoke Okoro’s mother is a man (LM). Okoro’s mother is brave (MM). Brevity is a feature that is usually associated with men not women. For Okoro’s mother to have been addressed as a man means that she has done something that is unusual of women maybe in physical strength or the expertise of handling a problem. This attribute does


not mean that Okoro’s mother is a man in the real sense but has exhibited a feature peculiar only to the men folk. Our analysis of metaphor in this paper can be seen as anomalous because there seems to be no relationship between the subjects of the sentences 1-11 and their corresponding objects since no human being can be pig, cream, rope, etc as depicted. Therefore, defining the truth condition of metaphorical expressions seems to be a mirage since meaning cannot be attached to it literally. However, using analogical mapping, the sentences can be accepted. This accepts the opinion of Steinhart (1994) that metaphors are better understood in terms of analogy. If metaphors mean what the words in their most literal interpretation mean, and nothing more, as Davidson (1984) claims, then it will be very difficult if not out-rightly impossible to apply TCS to them. If we chose to refer to Tarski’s cardinal example, snow is white or the sky is blue which is a simple declarative sentence, we know that of a truth snow and sky have no other colour than white and blue respectively. So TCS can apply here but definitely not in the examples we supplied in 1-12 above. What this suffices to say is that TCS accounts only for simple sentences that have direct meanings and not those with an element of ambiguity in them. 4.0 Summary of Findings and Conclusion For logical approaches to semantics, reference and truth are the principal semantic facts. The most important thing about the meaning of a word is what it refers to, and the most important thing about a sentence is whether or not it is true – whether or not things are as the sentence says they are. Meaning for a logical approach to semantics is thus principally truthconditional.


TCS, which insists on determining the truth of a statement or proposition is examined in this paper with particular reference to metaphors in the Igbo language. However, logical semantics and its truth conditional counterpart are not descriptively adequate to account for the meaning of all kinds of utterances. This is due to the fact that a word may mean one thing in a context and another thing somewhere else. Metaphors which are better interpreted in their utterance meaning are a hard nut for TCS to crack. This is because interpreting the sentence literally will affect its original and figurative meaning. It was found that TCs, no matter how fine-grained, are not enough. In conclusion, in as much as we know that truth is a central theme in every theory of meaning, verifying the truth condition of a sentence or utterance is extra-linguistic. No wonder Frege gave it a central place in his study of meaning. However, as pointed out by Lyons (1977), there are many occasions in which it is not just the truth of a linguistic expression that determines the most important factor governing its use. In other words, it falls outside the field of linguistics to verify the semantics of lexical items. Meaning should be discussed from a context-free view, where there is no restriction on the sense attached to a lexical item but that words are seen to be able to function variously depending on the context they find themselves. By so-doing, other types of sentences apart from statements can easily be defined. References Anand, P. (2007). “A Toy Semantics”. A Handout on Semantics. Available at http://people.ucsc.edu/~panand/Courses/0607/SemanticsB/handout1.pdf. Assessed on 12/07/2011. Andrews, A.D. (2001). “Truth-Conditional and Representational Semantics”. ANU Vol. 2. Also available at http/arts.anu.edu.au/linguistics/People/AveryAndrews /.../semantics/tcs_vs_rs.pdf. Assessed on 12/07/2011. Bloomfield, L. (1933). Language. New York: Holt. Carney, J.D. (1983). “The Meaning of a Metaphor”. Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition. Vol.44, No.2. Pp 257-267. Davidson, D. (1967). “Truth and Meaning”. Synthese, 17. Pp 304–323.

http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?WhatIsMetaphor. Assessed on 12/07/2011. Kamp, H. & Reyle, U. (1993). From Discourse to Logic. Dordrecht, Kluwer. Kempson, R.M. (1977). Semantic Theory. London: Cambridge University Press. Levinson, S.C. (1983). Pragmatics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Lyons, J. (1977). Semantics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Mbah, E.E. (2001). “An Evaluation of Method and Emphasis of Truth Conditional Semantics”. Nsukka Journal of African Languages and Linguistics. Vol 2, No 1. Pp 28-34. Mius, J. (2010). “The Truth of Metaphorical God-Talk”. Scottish Journal of Theology, Vol. 63, No. 2. Pp 146-162. Oluikpe, B.O. & Anasiudu, B.N. (2006). Dictionary of Nigerian English Slang. Nimo: Rex Charles and Patrick Ltd. Onuigbo, S. (2001). “The Pragmatics of Language and the Problem of Metaphor”. Ebonyi Journal of Humanities. Vol. 1 No. 1. Pp 12-20. Riemer, N. (2010). Introducing Semantics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Searle, J. R. (1993). "Metaphor." In A. Ortony, (Ed.). Metaphor and Thought. Pp. 92-123. New York: Cambridge University Press. Soames, S. (2010). What is Meaning? New Jersey: Princeton University Press. Skinner, B.F. (1957). Verbal Behaviour. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts. Steinhart, E. (1994). “Analogical Truth Conditions for Metaphors”. Metaphor and Symbolic Activity, Vol. 9, No 3. Pp 161-178. Tarski, A. (1933). “The Concept of Truth in the Languages of the Deductive Sciences”. Logic, Semantics and Mathematics. No 34, pp 15. Ude, I. (1998). “The Significance of Metaphor as a Creative Force in Language.” Journal of Liberal Studies. Vol. 7, Nos. 1 & 2. Pp 93-100. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metaphor#cite_note-4. Assessed on 15/08/2011.


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