LINGUIST List 12.3143

Wed Dec 19 2001

Disc: Reply to review of 'Contexts of Metaphor'

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Leezenberg, Reply to review of 'Contexts of Metaphor'

Message 1: Reply to review of 'Contexts of Metaphor'

Date: Wed, 19 Dec 2001 11:32:47 +0100
From: Leezenberg <>
Subject: Reply to review of 'Contexts of Metaphor'

This is the author's response to Zouhair Maalej's review of his
book 'Contexts of Metaphor'
Linguist 12.3034

Although I appreciate the time and attention Zouhair Maalej has
devoted to my study 'Contexts of Metaphor' (henceforth L 2001), I
am afraid he is doing the readers of the Linguist List a bit of a
disservice with his construal of it. He fails to mention, let
alone discuss, most of its central claims, finds and criticizes
doctrines in it that demonstrably aren't there, and overall gives
a rather misleading impression of its character.

To start with the last point: to judge from his review, my book
consists of little more than polemics against all existing
approaches to metaphor, and of discussions about whether metaphor
involves similarity or contiguity, and assertion or
presupposition. The book is not, however, despite Maalej's
repeated claims and suggestions to the contrary, a polemic
against conceptual or cognitive approaches to metaphor. In fact,
it crucially presents just such a conceptual approach itself. The
entire fourth and last chapter of the book is devoted to
outlining a conceptual account in the light of the three
preceding chapters, not as an encore or concession but as an
integral part of the argument. The book is not even a polemic
against Lakoff & Johnson (hence L&J) - style cognitive semantics;
if it were, how does Maalej explain the praise from one of the
most prominent representatives of this movement, Ray Gibbs, on
the book's cover? I by no means dismiss Gibbs's approach as
"indefensible, to say the least", as Maalej alleges. On the
contrary, I try to engage in a constructive dialogue with his
work, and I precisely emphasize the convergences between his
approach and mine.

Criticism is obviously part and parcel of academic research. This
should be trivial, but apparently it isn't. I consider it rather
less than helpful to dismiss a critically constructive approach
as mere polemics, and to largely downplay, or misrepresent, the
extended arguments which I give for my criticisms. In fact, most
of Maalej's discussion concerns my allegedly misguided criticisms
of cognitive semantics. I do no more, however, than briefly
discuss the basics of this approach, as presented in the
canonical texts by Lakoff and Johnson. Later work in cognitive
semantics may elaborate on this framework, but it does not
radically revise it; and it is regarding the framework that I
raise a number of questions.

None of Maalej's remarks, moreover, even comes close to
addressing the question that I consider crucial for L&J-style
cognitive semantics: it seems to presuppose distinct abstract,
decontextualized "conceptual domains" as source and targets for
metaphorical mappings, and I question precisely how these can
come about as logically prior, or, put differently, how the more
abstract can make the less abstract possible. Maalej tries to
counter this argument with the claim that "conceptual metaphor is
more a metalanguage for speaking about the linguistic metaphor".
If I get him correctly, this means that no psychological reality
is claimed for the theoretical notions of cognitive semantics.
Even if this is correct for the main proponents of cognitive
semantics (which I doubt), it still leaves untouched the logical
problem of how relatively simple concepts may be said to be
formed out of more complex or abstract ones presumed to be given,
and the question of context-dependence and cultural variability
in our concepts. In my book, I illustrate this latter point with
an extensive discussion of the role of literacy and other
sociocultural factors in concept formation.

At the same time, Maalej downplays what I consider the central
positive contributions of the book: a systematic analysis of the
role of contextual factors (which are often acknowledged as
important, but much more rarely discussed in detail), the
articulation of presupposed and asserted information, and an
outline of a sociocultural approach to concept formation.
Obviously, none of my hypotheses and arguments is above
discussion, but Maalej by and large fails to even mention them.
For example, the entire argument of my book, from the very first
to the very last paragraph, emphasizes that context-dependence is
crucial, not only to metaphor, but to interpretation generally,
at both the linguistic and the conceptual or cognitive level.
About this argument, let alone its technical niceties, Maalej is
largely silent. Instead, my analysis of metaphor is inadequately
summarized as "presupposing a demonstrative dimension" and
summarily dismissed as "hardly defensible". The summary is
inadequate, as I explicitly distinguish demonstratives (as
involving acts of pointing or gesturing) from context-dependence
more generally (L 2001, p. 151). Neither do I 'presuppose' any
such contextual dimension; on the contrary, since I am fully
aware that it is likely to be controversial, I argue for it at
length. To motivate his summary rejection of my analysis, Maalej
does not say much more than that it fails to account for
synesthetic (or more generally, cross-categorical) metaphor,
wholly hiding from view the fact that I do provide an extensive
account of precisely such metaphors (L 2001, p. 246-9, 288-92).
Obviously, he is under no obligation to be convinced by my
arguments, but he could at least have mentioned them.

Further, Maalej's review contains an impressive array of plain
misreadings. Thus, I do not offer a "syntactic account of
metaphor", whatever that may be; my case against "fashionable
views of concepts or categories" is not an allusion to 'the
cognitive theory of metaphor', but to the widespread view of
concepts as mental images or representations; I do not argue that
categories in illiterate societies "reflect the social order
rather than any inherently cognitive processes" (L 2001: p. 18)
(this is a claim by Durkheim and Mauss, which I actually reject
on p. 19); chapter 4 is not "an addition to the many reviews done
in previous chapters", but a substantial argument based on
existing literature; and so on.

The most serious of Maalej's misunderstandings occurs when he
credits me with the view that 'while metaphor is [sic] "a
relation of similarity, " metonymy involves "a relation of
contiguity"', and then castigates me for falling back on a notion
of similarity which I had rejected earlier myself. I have, of
course, not written anything so patently inconsistent. In fact,
in the very same sentence which Maalej quotes, I add that "this
[standard] answer [to the question of what distinguishes metaphor
and metonymy] is hardly a way out." In other words, Maalej
credits me with the very opposite of what I actually claim here!
I argue at length, and repeatedly, that similarity, while perhaps
not an illegitimate notion, cannot serve as an explanatory
concept (e.g., L 2001, p. 73-5, 179, 280-5). His discussion of my
alleged use of a similarity-contiguity opposition that I deny
others is thus more than a simple slip of the pen: it amounts to
a serious misunderstanding of a substantial part of my argument.
Equally serious is another of Maalej's conclusions. I do not
classify "metonymy as a presupposition and metaphor as an
assertion", as he summarizes a fifty-odd page section of my book.
If I understand him correctly, he believes this position clashes
with my remark that metaphorical interpretation involves a shift
in what is presupposed. Once again, the apparent contradiction is
mainly the result of careless reading. The whole point of chapter
3 of my book is precisely to unravel the articulation of
presupposition, assertion, and implicature in metaphorical
interpretation. For one thing, nowhere do I say that "metaphor is
an assertion", and I explicitly discuss metaphors expressing
presupposed information, such as

(1) If art is the tip of the iceberg, I'm the part sinking below.
(cf. L 2001, p. 233-235)

For another, and more importantly, the central claim of this
chapter is that metaphorical interpretations crucially depend on
contextual information which is arguably taken as presupposed in
the current technical sense of the term. For example,
presupposition is typically preserved under negation; the same, I
argue at some length (L 2001: p. 217-21), holds for metaphorical
interpretation, witness examples like

(2) No man is an island.
(3) Perhaps John is a wolf.

In other words, my claim is that metaphorical interpretation
depends on presupposed contextual information (what I
characterize as the 'thematic dimension' of the context), and
metaphors may be used to make assertions. There should be no
contradiction here. With the argument that metaphorically
expressed contents may (but need not) be asserted, I take issue
with approaches to metaphor that do not distinguish between
presupposed and asserted information; but also with approaches
like the Gricean one, which argues that metaphorically expressed
contents are particularized conversational implicatures, and
therefore by definition cannot be asserted. Obviously, none of my
claims is above criticism, but summary rejections that wholly
ignore or misconstrue the arguments and distinctions I present in
their defense are not very fruitful. I do not simply postulate my
own views in opposition to others, but I argue for them at length
and on the basis of numerous examples. Thus, I do not simply
reject Grice's approach, but rather check in some detail (L 2001,
p. 114-8) whether metaphor fits any of the familiar diagnostic
criteria for conversational implicature.

In short, none of the criticisms raised by Maalej amount to a
substantial problem for my book's main argument; worse, his
summaries seriously distort what I consider the book's main
theses. Sadly, then, I have to conclude that his review presents
a missed opportunity for a critical but constructive dialogue
between a few of the many existing approaches to metaphor.
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