EDITOR: Berendt, Erich A.
TITLE: Metaphors for Learning
SUBTITLE: Cross-cultural Perspectives
SERIES: Human Cognitive Processing
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
Cinzia Citarrella, Department of Linguistics, University of Palermo, Italy
This volume focuses on the conceptual domain of learning and the high
metaphoricity of conceptualization and expressions related to it. Learning
activity is a basic function in each person's life, and the way people think and
talk about it influences their social values: learning is one of the ten
bio-basic message systems which form the basis of all human cultural activities
(Hall, 1959; Trager, 1966).
The articles contained in this book deal with the Conceptual Metaphor Theory
(CMT), developed and elaborated by Lakoff and Johnson (1980). Studies are
carried out on different languages, such as Polish, Russian, Japanese and
others, and also in a comparative perspective.
The editor's introduction provides the background of his theoretical thinking
and some of his main theoretical notions. He also outlines the structure of the
book, the topics of the different papers and the way they combine together.
The book is divided into four parts, each one focusing on a particular aspect of
the main subject: the development of metaphorical conceptualization, the social
and cultural values related to metaphorical conceptualization, the usage of
metaphors in the classroom, and the role of metaphors in education.
The first part, ''Historical Transformations in Metaphoric Conceptualization'', is
made up of two studies: they present two different perspectives as they deal
with Western vs. Eastern language and the connected conceptual systems. They
also reveal how difficult it is to translate academic papers when cultural and
conceptual differences must be taken into account.
The first study, ''In the balance. Weighing up conceptual culture'', is by Joan
Turner, who focuses on the cognitive structuring of rationality as evidenced by
conventional metaphors used in teaching academic discourse in English. Turner
studies those metaphors related to the conceptual domains of BALANCE and WEIGHT
and the different highlighted aspects of the same source domains, as positive or
negative, related to rationality, emotions and imagination, according to the
specific cultural context. The author claims paying attention to these
conceptual metaphors is a prime requirement for whoever wants to improve a
specific competence in L2. This is especially the case in the context of
academic discourse by foreign students where a more critical approach may be
deemed as more complex because of the content of the discourse and the
linguistic obstacles the student may encounter. One's conceptualization of
knowledge, reasoning, criticism and judgment is based on the ''rhetorical law of
gravity'': these domains are conceptualized and expressed by conventional
metaphors of weight, balance, firm ground, downward or upward movement. These
metaphorical networks are related to the Western traditional theory of knowledge
of philosophers, from the Greeks to Leibniz and Descartes, even though it is no
In the second study of the first part, ''The tradition and transformation of
metaphor in Japanese'', Keiiti Yamanaka presents a brief history about the theory
of figurative language in Japan and explains why Japanese poetics failed to
produce an adequate theory of metaphor. Despite other international studies,
Yamanaka affirms that Japanese academic language has not been influenced so
deeply by Western academic discourse, rather it is connected to Japanese poetry.
For this purpose the author analyzes some poetic metaphors, waka, and shows how
they have also influenced academic language.
The four chapters which form the second part, ''Socio-cultural Values and
Metaphoric Conceptualization'', are designed to reveal the degree of universality
and differences connected to culture in the perspective of learning
The first paper focuses on the metaphorical structures of learning activity in
Japanese language and culture in order to clarify, not only the importance of
speaking and thinking in the specific language, but also the meaningful task of
behaving towards education and the connection between conceptualization and
culture, both in the traditional and the modern view. With reference to this
Masako K. Hiraga analyzes some conventional metaphorical expressions and
proverbs as far as learning and education are concerned with their respective
metaphoric concepts. The basic conceptual metaphors analyzed are LEARNING IS A
JOURNEY, LEARNING IS IMITATING THE MODEL, TEACHER IS A FATHER, EXAMINATION IS
COMBAT IN WAR. Learning is an imitation process: the student ''follows'' what is
done by teacher, the latter which literally translates from the Japanese as ''his
feet going before others'' (''osmosis model''). The relationship teacher/students
is conceptualized in terms of family members, and the school is understood as a
family home. According to the changes occurred in the Japanese school system and
to the students increase, new conceptual metaphors arise, such as EXAMINATION IS
COMBAT IN WAR: students, in order to enroll in selective schools, must ''compete''
for passing entry tests from kindergarten up to the university level, and also
uniforms used in these schools are designed based on those used by the military.
In the second paper, ''Intersections and diverging paths. Conceptual patterns on
learning in English and Japanese'', Berendt proposes a comparison between
conceptual metaphors related to learning in English and Japanese through the
analysis of expressions in different communicative situations and examines the
variability of cognitive patterns in different genres. The linguistic corpus has
been created on word-reference lists, technical and academic writings, essays,
and film dialogues. English and Japanese share the most frequent patterns, as
LEARNING IS AN ENTITY or LEARNING IS A PATH, however many differences can be
traced in the sub-patterns. The generic structural metaphors reflect universal
reality experience much more than sub-metaphors do, while sub-metaphors are more
cultural-specific. Differences may also be found in the degree of frequency,
although the same pattern is shared. Some patterns are divergent in the two
languages, as they reflect specific cultural values: LEARNING IS CONSCIOUSNESS
or LEARNING HAS POWER, for instance, are productive patterns only in English,
whereas LEARNING IS INGESTING and LEARNING IS FIRE/WAR are only found in Japanese.
Hidasi's paper, ''Cultural messages of metaphors'', is a cross-cultural comparison
of proverbs and idiomatic expressions involving metaphoric elements of learning
and teaching in Japanese and Hungarian. The author analyzes similarities and
differences in the underlying patterns and respective social and cultural
values. None of the Japanese proverbs examined have a full equivalent in
Hungarian; however, some of them are semi-equivalent in terms of the similarity
borne in one of the three levels of meaning: message, image and linguistic
formulation. Other proverbs reflect cultural-specific values both in Japanese
and Hungarian. Hidasi also investigates whether the similarity is connected to
common Asian origins or to the universality of patterns.
The fourth paper of the second part, ''The many facets of teaching and learning
in Malay'', is by Imran Ho-Abdullah and focuses on conceptual metaphors of
learning and teaching in Malay, analyzing a corpus of expressions based on
written text, particularly newspaper reports. Through the semantic analysis of
the terms ajar, didik, asuh, bimbing, latih, and their context usage and
collocation, the study reveals the social and cultural values of education in
Malaysia: the choice of specific lexical items when people talk about education
brings forth different ways of conceptualizing teaching and learning.
The goal of Joanna Radwańska–Williams's paper, ''The 'native speaker' as a
metaphorical construct'', is to deconstruct Chomsky's idea of ''native speaker''
(1965) and to propose a non-dichotomous position with reference to the
native/non-native opposition as a gradable antonymy. According to PALASIGMET
group theory (Steen, 2002), the prepositional structure revealed by the phrase
''native speaker'' is a metaphor as 'native' and 'language' refer to different
entities. It is grounded in the conceptual metaphor BIRTH IS SOCIAL IDENTITY:
the concept of ''native speaker'' is a socially construed identity label.
Part three, ''Metaphors and the classroom'' includes two papers on the role of
metaphors in education. In the chapter ''Metaphor in the construction of a
learning environment'', Lynne Cameron analyzes the language used in a classroom
setting, in particular that of an English primary school. Her approach is
socio-cognitive in the light of Vygotskyan theory. The fundamental goal of this
paper is students, even those with socio-pragmatic disorders or non-native
speakers, may benefit by improving their learning activity through the usage of
metaphorical expressions. Teachers use metaphoric and non-metaphoric language
during the same lesson, and many (mainly conventionalized) metaphors, are used
together. Metaphoric expressions are preferred by the teachers in this study at
the end of any lesson to re-phrase the contents previously conveyed using a more
humorous and familiar language, as well as to summarize, give an evaluative
feedback and organize the workflow. Metaphors prove also to be very useful for
the improvement of students' competences in technical language and for reasoning
about unfamiliar processes.
The study carried out by Lixian Jin and Martin Cortazzi, ''Images of teachers,
learning and questioning in Chinese cultures of learning'', analyzes traditional
and contemporary metaphorical expressions of learning in Chinese and their
relation to the practice of education. The authors look at visual and physical
metaphoric expressions as well as linguistic ones. The comparison between
underlying conceptual metaphors in Chinese and the ones belonging to other
cultures together with the respective linguistic expressions and behaviors
reveals the high degree of socio-cultural variability, even though some elements
seem to be universal. The corpora consist of popular sayings and colloquial
language used by students in answering a questionnaire.
The last part comprises two studies focused on the role of metaphors in
education planning in Tunisia and South Africa, countries which are facing great
changes both in their social and educational systems.
The paper by Zouhair Maalej, ''Metaphors of learning and knowledge in the
Tunisian context. A case of re-categorization'', analyzes the Arabic version of
the Program of Program, an official document about educational policy in
Tunisia. The purpose of the article is to study the transformation of Tunisian
language related to the educational context according to the changes which have
been taking place in the educational system, in the cultural models and in the
teacher-students interaction in line with globalization. In the perspective of
Conceptual Metaphor Theory, Maalej offers a critical analysis of new conceptual
metaphors of learning and teaching and their socio-cultural implications. He
also compares them with the previous conceptualization linked to the past
situation. Education has been re-defined in terms of buildings, journeys and
economy: new metaphors, such as THE LEARNER IS A BUILDER, LEARNING IS A
CONSTRUCTION, LEARNING IS A VALUABLE RESOURCE, have replaced the old ones, like
LEARNING IS THE TRANSFER OF KNOWLEDGE BETWEEN A SOURCE AND A DESTINATION.
The language of education in South Africa has also been transformed according to
the political and cultural changes towards a culture of Human Rights. Rosalie
Finlayson, Marné Pienaar and Sarah Slabbert in their study, ''Metaphors of
transformation. The new language of education in South Africa'', analyze the
linguistic transformation with reference to the revision of policy and practice
of education and explain the underlying image schemata. Their investigation aims
at the opposition NEW/OLD, GOOD/BAD and the conceptual metaphor TRANSFORMATION
(from old to new) IS A JOURNEY. All these underlying patterns interrelate with
The topics developed in this book are quite interesting from the perspective of
teaching. Nowadays multiculturalism is a characteristic feature at every school
level, and teachers have to cope, not only with multilingualism, but also with
multiculturalism. Teachers' and students' different cultural backgrounds, which
may coexist in the same classroom, raise difficulties and misunderstandings
because of the intercultural differences and the subsequent behavior.
The papers comprising this book offer a wide range of divergent perspectives
analyzing several languages and cultures. Despite the universality of some
elements, the language of a learning and teaching system is a socio-cultural
variable of great impact: a cross-linguistic data analysis of different
languages reveals the great differences between the linguistic structures, the
lexicon, and the respective cultural patterns and social behavior. It is also
worth noting the range of languages analyzed, from English to Chinese, Japanese,
Polish, Russian, Hungarian, Malay, Tunisian and South African languages: these
are all very different languages in terms of typology and history, and the
conceptual patterns connected with the socio-cultural elements are divergent as
The volume combines theoretical and practical discourses on linguistic and
cultural variability. Its theoretically-based approach to the analysis of the
discourses of education shows how linguistics can be successfully used to also
examine extra-linguistic realities like school systems and student-teacher
Overall, this edited volume is a fine reader for those who are interested in
applied linguistics and especially in education and teaching methodology. By
considering linguistic differences and cultural, conceptual and behavioral
divergences, it is very useful for teachers who work in multicultural contexts
in order to avoid misunderstandings which may undermine the teacher-student
relationship, trying to establish, in this way, a positive teacher-student
relationship and making learning easier. Furthermore, it also presents the
reader the foreign cultures people may daily have to relate to in their classrooms.
Chomsky, Noam. 1965. _Aspects of the theory of syntax_. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.
Hall, Edward T. 1959. _The Silent Language_. New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday.
Lakoff, George and Johnson, Mark. 1980. hMetaphors We Live By_. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press.
Steen, Gerard. 2002. Towards a procedure for metaphor identification. _Language
and Literature_, 11 (1), 17-33.
Trager, George Leonard. 1966. A schematic outline for the processual analysis of
culture. In L. Gottschalk & A.H. Auerbach (eds). _Methods of research in
psychotherapy_. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Cinzia Citarrella, Ph.D. in Linguistics, is currently a lecturer of Translation
Studies at the University of Palermo, Facoltà di Lettere e Filosofia, and is a
certified Italian as a Second Language teacher. Her main academic interests are
Translation Studies, Cognitive Linguistics and Metaphor, and Language Teaching.