Metaphors are as Linguistic Phenomenon

Table of contents

Metaphors are regarded as linguistic phenomenon by many experts and scholars. Metaphors are ubiquitous in our everyday actions, thoughts and even the human language according to Black (2019). Additionally, it is an important cognitive instrument through which individuals perceive, conceptualize and even categorize the universe. Metaphors in traditional conception are a type of language phenomenon employed to decorate utterances (Turner, 2018).

According to Lakoff & Johnson (1980), the basic levels of theoretical metaphors are based on human experiences and as a result are in most instances likely to be found extensively across various dialects and societies. Animals are found in different cultures and it is obvious that these animals and humans share a lot in common such as the living environment, behavior, physical features and food structures (Lakoff & Johnson, 2008).

Animal metaphor is definitely a crucial category since it contains rich images in addition to intimate relationship with the humans. There are many studies that have discussed animal metaphor from both the cognitive and cultural perspective angle such as that by Talebinejad & Dastjerdi (2005). As a result of long-term social interaction and keen observations of different animals, individuals have developed a deep understanding and insightful knowledge of their habits and temperaments which after a long period became embodied in the Human language (Palmatier, 1995). Due to constant interaction with animals, societies have come up with many animal phrases in their respective languages, which are seen in the varying descriptions.

There is no one universally agreed upon definition of the term ‘metaphor’ but rather different views to it exist. Kirby (1997) notes that according to Aristotle, “metaphor is a comparison or rather a similarity that can be observed between two or more objects that belong to different categories”. He saw metaphor as a form of decoration addition to the conventional plain language in addition to being a rhetoric device that is employed in certain instances to gain a specific effect (Levin, 1982). From his view, a metaphor is an aspect that is outside the normal language and which needs distinctive methods of interpretation from listeners and readers.

Fernandez, et al. (1974) are other scholars that tried to understand the analogy of metaphor as an easy interpretation of two thoughts about different things working together and explained by a simple word, phrase, whose meaning is a resultant of their interaction For Fernandez, et al (1974), they did not see a metaphor as idiomatic but rather a general combination of different ideas. They further posited that metaphors are ”distinct application of linguistic expression in which case each metaphorical expression is rooted in another literal expression, and following this, the meaning of various metaphorical expression interact with and changes the known meaning of the literal expression”. The current understanding of metaphor as we know has been the work of Lakoff & Johnson (1980).

According to them, metaphor exists every place in our day to day life and not only in speech as it is found in our contemplations in addition to behavior. They note that the conceptual system which we utilize to idealize and even act is figurative in nature and Chinese linguist Su, (1998) notes that metaphors are everywhere and are unemployed every once in three of our everyday oral communication. The argument by Lakoff & Johnson (2008) is that “metaphor is not just a matter of language, that is, of mere words, on the contrary, the human thought processes are largely metaphorical”

Metaphors are a prevalent metaphor that lies in every language and structure. Additionally, metaphor is theoretical in nature in which case, it is a form of thought, a cognitive organization that is conveyed by dialectal object as opposed to a rhetorical expression (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980). It is a way of contemplating and also a perceptive device. Metaphor is also systematically grounded in human cognition and one conventional metaphorical theory has the capacity to give rise to many linguistic expressions.

“The language we use stems from our different experiences of the world and the manner in which we perceive and conceptualize it. Experience is as a result of interaction of our body with the external environment or other individuals within our culture, all of which make up our conceptual system”. Lakoff & Johnson according to, (1980)

Research Aim and Questions

Many experts argue that metaphors are crucial when it comes to structuring our thoughts and languages. The conceptual metaphor theories have had remarkable influence on cognitive science while also having cross-cultural implications. Based on this, the main objective of this analysis is to compare how animal metaphors ae utilized in both Chinese communities and the communities that speak English. The research questions to guide the study are:

  1. What are the common conceptual metaphors relating to animals in English and Chinese?
  2. What are the similarities between English and Chinese metaphors?
  3. What differences exist between English and Chinese metaphors?
  4. What are the implications for these similarities and differences?

Theoretical Background

  • Conceptual Metaphor

When it comes to cognitive linguistics view, metaphor is a phenomenon that is conceptual and is linked to what takes place in the mind. Lakoff & Johnson (1980) posited that conceptual metaphors are largely systematic mapping over conceptual domains. A metaphor is described as “the systematic mapping of one domain onto another domain” according to Gibbs Jr, et al., (2004, Pg 24).

Source field is the one that is planned while the aimed domain is the receipt of the mapping Gibbs Jr, et al (2004, pg 25). The end result of this theoretical metaphor is that the process of mapping transfers the features of the source to the aimed domain. “A metaphor therefore consists of cross-domain mapping in the theoretical system to think or even understand one thing in terms of something else” Lakoff & Johnson (2008).

The source domain is the conceptual domain that is utilized in trying to understand another conceptual domain usually referred to as the domain metaphor. Normally, an abstract concept is employed as target, while a more real concept is utilized as the source. According to Lakoff & Johnson (1980)”metaphorical mapping leads to preservation of the cognitive image schema of the source domain, however not all properties are usually mapped onto the target domain. Only some of the structural relations and domain specific properties as well as knowledge of the source domain are actually mapped onto the target domain. The transfer takes place on the basis of apparent similarity between some of the elements of the two domains”.

Individuals usually talk about target domains such as life, love, social; organization and also ideas through means of employing journey, war, food as well as plants as the source domain. For example, “She attacked every weak point in my argument”.

Her criticism was right on point. Majority of English speakers employ these linguistic terminologies conventionally to talk on argument since understanding the nonfigurative concept of argument is enabled by the more concrete concept of a war. Conceptual metaphor ‘argument is war’ is revealed through the application of metaphorical expression; “attacked every weak point in and right on target” in this specific example.

The abstract concept in this instance is ARGUMENT, and it is comprehended through the concept WAR, therefore in this instance, WAR is the source domain whereas ARGUMENT represents the target domain. The utilization of the expression in this case to discuss an argument is not accidental, but is rather due to the fact that a part of conceptual network of battle characterizes the concept of an argument.

Leading theories on metaphor study in china

Since the 1990s, various Chinese scholars have been interested in exploring the properties of metaphor from a new angle based on the already established western theories. For instance, Zhao, (1995) reviewed Metaphors We Live By and helped to deepen public’s knowledge of metaphor. Devotion to learn about metaphor and language by many Chinese linguistic scholars has had considerable influence on the advancement of this discipline.

However, the study of metaphor in china is still in the fledgling period. In one article, on the nature of metaphor and semantic features (1998) Shu Dingfang posits that “human language is metaphorical symbol system on the whole”. In another article titles Language, cognition and metaphor Hu (1997) pointed out “the two items which metaphor mentioned to is not temporary, accidental category, but rather mirrors in peoples’ pre-existing concepts”.

These works helped to systematically introduce western theories of metaphor into China. These Chinese scholars tend to introduce several approaches to the Chinese audience rather than applying it to the investigation of the Chinese language. Shuwu (1998) for instance gives a summary of different metaphor studies from the west such as those by Aristotle and Lakoff. There are other books discussing this same topic such as studies in metaphor by Shu Dingfang (2000) and metaphor, metaphorization and demetaphorization by Yongsheng (2006). Of late, there has been a considerable progress when it comes to the study metaphor. There is a large amount of research papers on cognitive basis, mechanism as well as function of metaphor that have already been published.

Theories on metaphor study in west

Cognitive linguistics theorists on this in the western culture supposed that metaphor is embedded in human cognitive structure. Additionally, they believed that metaphor existed in linguistic level as well as human thought level. Aristotle posited that metaphor is similar as a decoration or ornament in language. Additionally, he held that metaphor is “the use to one thing of a name that belongs to another thing” (Gibbs Jr, et al., 2004).

His comprehensive description of this is that “metaphor is the transference of a name from the object to which it has a natural application; this transference can take place from genus to species or from species to species or through analogy” (Fernandez, et al., 1974). His explanation of metaphor that it is the process of renaming and transference was later developed into “comparison theory” which had huge influence on the traditional study of metaphor. Aristotle regarded metaphors as “fancy language” utilized by poets which is nice but not necessarily important.

The first century saw the emergence of the theory of substitution which argued that “the V-term was substituting for a literal term and that the meaning of a metaphor could be revealed through replacing the literal term and based on this, one can conclude that a metaphor is kind of a decorative device” (Reinhart, 1976).

This theory was advanced by Reinhart and according to him, “a metaphor is where a metaphorical expression is utilized in place of some equivalent literal expression and the comparative theory is a special case of substitution. “His interpretation was that metaphor is a method of retitling and change which is later progressed into “comparison theory” that dominates the conventional analysis of metaphor. This specific theory of metaphor has the assumption that an act of comparison is at the heart of the process.

Based on the substitution or comparison view of metaphor, Black, (1979) developed the “interaction theory” of metaphor where he maintained that the principle of metaphor lied on the relations between the metaphorical expression and the context in which it is used. In the last years of the 1970s decade, Lakoff and Johnson published Metaphors We Live By which marked the transformation of metaphor. Their view n metaphor challenged all the previous aspects of the powerful traditional theory in a coherent as well as systematic manner. They explained a metaphor as:
“Metaphor is for most people a device of the poetic imagination and the rhetorical flourish- a matter of extraordinary rather than ordinary language. Moreover, metaphor is typically viewed characteristic of language alone, a matter of words rather than thought and action. We have found, on the contrary, that metaphor is pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought and action. Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature. (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980: 3)”

Data Analysis

The paper will use English and Chinese data on animal metaphors from Cambridge Advanced Learner’s dictionary; conforming English and Chinese proverbs and phrases with explanation and examples. The report will also use Oxford advanced learner, English-Chinese Dictionary of current English, an English-Chinese dictionary of animal words as well as their usage. There are various approaches that can employed when it comes to studying and understanding metaphors.

Such include: semantic approach, cognitive approach, philosophical approach and cultural approach among others. The cognitive and cultural approaches will be the approaches utilized in this specific study so as to understand animal metaphors. A comparative study will be applied as the paper entails the study of different languages.

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