Leezenberg, Michiel (2001) Contexts of Metaphor. Elsevier Science
Ltd, x+321 pp, hardback ISBN 0-08-043881-4, $93.50, Current
Research in the Semantics/Pragmatics Interface 7.
Zouhair Maalej, Department of English, University of Manouba-
_Contexts of Metaphor_ is offered as being at the crossroads of
semantics and pragmatics. The book includes a Preface, an
Introduction, and four major chapters, two of which are
literature reviews of theories of metaphor past and present.
BOOK'S PURPOSE AND CONTENTS
In the Preface, Leezenberg gives the main thrust of his book,
which intends to investigate the different semantic and pragmatic
approaches to metaphor, without losing sight of the contribution
of social sciences, and building a case against what he calls
"fashionable views of concepts or categories" (which is an
allusion to cognitive theory of metaphor).
In the Introduction, Leezenberg does many things: (i) He surveys
the reasons for the relative neglect of metaphor research before
the twentieth century. (ii) He offers a rehabilitation for
semantics as the legitimate and persuasive framework within which
metaphor should be suitably studied. His approach is essentially
intensional, model-theoretic as offered by Montague, combined
with Kaplan's context-dependence. (iii) He delimits the scope of
a theory of metaphor as capable of designating potential
metaphoric constructions, their recognition, the rules involved
in their interpretation, their truth value, their indeterminacy,
and the place of metaphor within linguistic theory. (iv) He
offers a syntactic (as predication) and semantic (as informative
description) account of metaphor. (v) He provides an overview of
the many theories of metaphor, and offers his own classification
of these theories into referentialist, descriptivist, and
conceptualist. (vi) He ends the Introduction by giving the broad
outline of the book.
1. Chapters from the History of Metaphor
In Protohistory of Metaphor, Leezenberg argues that
categorisations or classifications in illiterate societies
"reflect the social order rather than any inherently cognitive
processes" (p. 18), and that what seems to be metaphor for
outsiders is non-metaphor for these societies. Extrapolating from
findings in this connection, what creates a metaphor for them is
"the context of utterance, rather than abstract categories or
mappings between conceptual domain" (p. 27). The Aristotelian
view of Metaphor is argued to be more conceptual in the Poetics
and more pragmatic in the Rhetoric, but less referential than
usually believed. Leezenberg documents the fact that in no time
had Aristotle had a view of metaphor in terms of
literal/metaphoric dichotomy, embellishment or deviance.
Focusing his comments on Mysteries of Eloquence, Leezenberg
argues that Abd al-Qahir al-Jurjani expresses a philosophical and
theological view of metaphor and its relation to comparison. Al-
Jurjani's shying away from a falsehood view of metaphor is
motivated by theological and linguistic considerations. The Koran
being full of metaphors talking of Allah, a view of metaphor
along untruth and falsehood would have been utter blasphemy. Al-
Jurjani's theory builds on perceptual and intellectual
capacities, and although he seems to have had no access to Greek
philosophy in his writings, his conception, like that of
Aristotle, classified simile as metaphor-based rather than
metaphor as simile-based.
Vico's view is presented as treating metaphor as the product of
imagination, projecting elements from the domain of bodily
experience onto the domain of natural phenomena, which does not
make him a conceptualist in spite of his conception of language
as essentially metaphoric and owing to the simile and
referentialist view of metaphor he offers.
2. Twentieth Century Views of Metaphor
Criticising the semantic views of metaphor, Leezenberg rightly
argues against the referentialists' using similarity as the only
concept capturing metaphor, and the descriptivists' using anomaly
as a defining feature for metaphor recognition. Even the
pragmatic views offered by Grice, Searle, and Sperber & Wilson
are said to be no better as they actually boil down to a version
of substitution of sentence meaning by speaker meaning. Equally
condemned as problematic and bringing no solutions to the
problems of metaphor is Lakoff & Johnson's theory known as
3. Metaphor and Context
Leezenberg develops the framework in which he grounds his
semantic contextual view of metaphor, following Kaplan's Logic of
Demonstratives formulated within possible world semantics. On
this view, "metaphorical interpretations are assigned to
sentences in context rather than to sentence types" (p. 171).
Interpretation is guided by two dimensions: a default literal
dimension (di) and a metaphoric thematic dimension (dn). Under a
di, "This is a swine" is false; under a dn it "denotes the
property of being filthy," and it "is true if the person pointed
at does in fact have that property" (p. 172). Owing to the
context-dependency of metaphoric interpretation, "the importance
of the falsity of the 'literal interpretation' ^� as a criterion
for recognition loses in importance" (p. 173). The notion of
clash or tension does not arise as "the hearer has to interpret
and evaluate a sentence before noting its oddity" (p. 177).
As to distinguishing metaphor from metonymy and irony within this
theory, Leezenberg argues that "irony or sarcasm, unlike
metaphorical interpretation, do appear to depend on previously
established content". However, while metaphor is "a relation of
similarity," metonymy involves "a relation of contiguity," and
metonymic interpretations often "determine information that is
presupposed rather than asserted" (179). Leezenberg argues that
"[r]ecognition thus drops out as a necessary first step in
metaphorical and metonymical interpretation" (p. 181). Talking
about metaphor and assertion, he argues that "metaphorical
interpretation involves a change in what is presupposed, not in
what is asserted" (p. 219),
4. Metaphor, Concept, and Society
Leezenberg makes further review of the literature for Gibbs and
Indurkhya, and finds their approach indefensible, to say the
least. Other authors like Wittgenstein, Bartsch, Vygotsky,
Glucksberg & Keysar, and Bourdieu have been visited as a way of
showing how some of them square little or well with his theory of
metaphor on contextual semantic grounds. It is interesting and
revealing that this book ends with this chapter, without it being
a conclusion. No conclusion has been made provision for for a
topic such as metaphor.
As far as my knowledge of books on metaphor goes, _Contexts of
Metaphor_ is the first in which the author gives due importance
to the contribution not only of Western but also non-Western
thinkers. The review of the various views of metaphor's
recognition and interpretation is a hard act to follow. However,
Leezenberg presents two chapters totalling almost 150 pages for
reviewing the literature on metaphor previous to and in the 20th
century up to the present, going from author to author reviewing
their views and criticising them, with one purpose in mind:
showing that they do not treat metaphor as a semantic entity in
context. Under 20th century views was included Cicero and
Quintilian to whom a couple of pages were devoted. Although this
is invaluable, it is available in many books on metaphor, and
should have been curtailed to make the book more enjoyable
reading. Chapter four is yet another addition to the many reviews
done in previous chapters.
(i) Criticising Leezenberg's criticisms
Leezenberg presents some of the commonalities of metaphor
research as an innovation, such as arguing that "the literal and
figurative language do not involve any qualitatively different
processes of interpretation" (p. 2) or denying "that literal
falsity or anomaly can be considered a defining criterion for
metaphor" (p. 3). Such topics have received much debating, and
are not seen as controversial anymore now. It is not clear why in
discussing, for instance, the referentialist view of metaphor,
the author did not select for study those authors whose
contribution is acknowledged in dealing with similarity such as
Leech (1966-1973), Miller (1979), and Ortony (1979-1994).
Discussing whether the preposition "in" admits a metaphoric
interpretation, Leezenberg refutes that it "has any clearly
delineated 'core meaning' or 'literal meaning' to begin with" (p.
7). For studies of prepositions in cognitive linguistics that
showed their metaphoric dimension basically in time expressions
as a form of mapping from spatial meanings, the author is
referred to the huge literature on the subject (e.g. Jackendoff,
1983; Langacker, 1984-1986-1987; Cienki, 1989; Sweetser, 1990
(which is listed in the bibliography); Boers & Demecheleer, 1998;
O'Keefe, 1999, etc.).
Commenting on the Lakoffian framework, Leezenberg (p. 16) argues
that the view of metaphor as mapping between two domains
presupposes a "literal domain." The author's attention is drawn
to the fact that Lakoff & Johnson's framework builds on the
conceptual metaphors present in cognition that govern a multitude
of linguistic metaphors. Such a body of metaphors basically draws
on everyday life metaphors (some call dead metaphors or idioms)
English people live by for which there are no literal
counterparts. In this connection, the author is referred to the
huge literature on emotion, event structure metaphor, and other
abstract concepts, which have been studied in cognitive semantics
as having no literal counterpart at all (K�vecses, 1993-1995-
1999-2000; Lakoff, 1987-1993-1996a-b; Lakoff & K�vecses, 1987;
etc.). Furthermore, the Lakoffian framework, unlike others, does
not posit that metaphor is a product of an anomaly vis-�-vis a
linguistic or other norm.
Some statements about cognitive semantics are undocumented
overgeneralisations that reject a body of research that is not
fully coincident with the way the author describes it. In his
criticism of conceptual metaphor theory (and in particular, the
notion of meaning, culture, imagination, and rationality),
Leezenberg restricts it to three publications by Lakoff & Johnson
(1980), Lakoff (1987), and Johnson (1987). The author's attention
is again drawn to subsequent publications (prior to the
publication of his own book) by the same and other authors (on
meaning, see Gibbs, 1999b and Lakoff & Johnson, 1999; on culture,
see Lakoff & Turner, 1989 and Lakoff & Johnson, 1999, and Gibbs,
1999a; on imagination, see Johnson, 1993; on rationality, see
Lakoff & Johnson, 1999.).
Commenting on the distinction between linguistic and conceptual
metaphor, Leezenberg argues that it is "counterintuitive to treat
the more abstract as making the less abstract possible" (p. 143).
The author may need to know that conceptual metaphor is not meant
as an interpretative strategy to linguistic metaphor as much as a
way of capturing the source of mapping used in the linguistic
metaphor. Conceptual metaphor is more a metalanguage for speaking
about the linguistic metaphor. Another major objection to this
theory has to do with the "priority of conceptualisations over
linguistic expression" (p. 145). Granting that the author is
focusing, among others, on Lakoff & Johnson (1980), a clear
distinction has been made by the authors between linguistic
metaphor (as used in the absence of other means to investigate
the workings of the human mind) and conceptual metaphor, which is
definitely a clear acknowledgement of a linguistic level:
"Metaphors as linguistic expressions are possible precisely
because there are metaphors in a person's conceptual system"
(Lakoff & Johnson, 1980: 6). Priority is crucial and justified.
Not assuming this priority would have meant ignoring metaphors
that are not linguistically mediated such as pictorial metaphor
(Forceville, 1996), gesturing metaphors (Cienki, 1998 ; Corts &
Pollio, 1999); and metaphor in sign language (Wilcox, 2000),
which are all evidence that metaphor is a multi-modal phenomenon
not restricted to linguistic expression.
(ii) Criticising Leezenberg's theory
A theory of metaphor recognition and interpretation organised
around the Logic of Demonstratives is, to say the least, very
restricted in scope as it conceives of metaphor as presupposing a
demonstrative dimension. Not all metaphors involve such a
demonstrative dimension. It is not clear how "[a] metaphorically
interpreted sentence is simply true in case its subject has the
contextually determined property. Thus, there is no need for any
distinct notion of metaphorical truth or falsity" (p. 174). Does
this mean that for a metaphor like "The chairman ploughed through
the discussion" to be a metaphor the chairman should have the
properties a ploughman has or a connotation of ploughing?
Speaking about the application of this property in "John is a
wolf," Leezenberg suggests that "the hearer may also start to
attribute other wolf-like features to John, such as his yellowish
eyes, pointed teeth, and other visual or behavioural aspects"
(184). It seems that there is no device in this theory that
filters out the entailments of the metaphor that are not salient
to the target domain, although "thematic dimensions" are invoked
as playing such a role (p. 224). Those properties as derived by
association or connotation are not semantic but pragmatic in
nature. There is a host of metaphors known as synesthetic
metaphors (such as the meat smells high, loud colours, sweet
music, black mood, etc.), which can be set as counterexamples to
this property seeking strategy (Taylor, 1995: 139). It is just
not self-evident by what mechanism the property in question is
arrived at, applied, and restrained, because this is pivotal for
both the recognition and interpretation of the utterance as a
metaphor. If it is legitimate to suppose that the metaphoric
interpretation is unmediated by the literal meaning, how is the
author going to preclude the notion of clash or tension from
arising, if psychologically it does arise in the mind of
In distinguishing metaphor from metonymy, Leezenberg correlates
metaphor with similarity and metonymy with contiguity. In many
places in his criticism of other theories, Leezenberg repeatedly
mounted a case against similarity as a ground for metaphor,
arguing that it is one of the "obvious pitfalls of a
referentialist theory", of which Jurjani was said to have steered
(p. 48). Elsewhere, he wondered "what theoretical gain is made by
reducing metaphor to similarity" (p. 73). Elsewhere still, he
argues that "similarity cannot serve as a primitive notion
explaining, or reducing, the figurative element in metaphor" (p.
77). Isn't this denying to others what one allows oneself to do?
Metonymic interpretations are said to often "determine
information that is presupposed rather than asserted" (179). This
seems to me to be another classification of metonymy as a
presupposition and metaphor as an assertion. Further down,
Leezenberg claims the same status for metaphor: "metaphorical
interpretation involves a change in what is presupposed not in
what is asserted" (p. 219). In yet another recapitulative
paragraph, he writes that "metaphors may be used to make
assertions" (p. 249).
(iii) General remarks
To end this critical evaluation, there are three minor features
relating to punctuation and typography, spacing, and spelling
that deserve mentioning. Leezenberg uses the semi-colon (;) where
a stop is normally expected. The other drawback has to do with
spacing. In some places, no space is provided after a stop, a
comma, a semi-colon, and a question mark (e.g. interpretation of
language.A focus of attention (p. 3), metaphorical language,or
(p. 15), language;that (p. 2), general theory of language?Surely
(p. 9). If a spell check had been applied properly, it would have
detected most of these, and many of the words that are strung
together as one word would have been corrected automatically by
the word processor (e.g. languageand, p. 1; languageon, p. 3;
languagemay, p. 15; languageuser, p. 18; etc.). This has been so
frequent and annoying that I have given up cataloguing it. The
publisher should have realised this while publishing. The other
failure has to do with spelling and grammar check. There is
evidence that a grammar check programme hasn't been run: e.g.
"are is" coexist instead of "are"(p. 56); "he argues" is written
twice in the same sentence (p. 58); "explored" is written
"eplored" (p. 82); "the Assyrian belief of the power inherent in
tablets" instead of "the Assyrian belief in the power inherent in
tablets" (p. 29); "He does not explicate, however, in how far
tablets were actually believed to be living objects" instead of
"He does not explicate, however, how far tablets were actually
believed to be living objects" (p. 29); "What are we make of this
suggestion ...?" instead of "What are we to make of this
suggestion ...?" (p. 41); "the speaker doesn't mean to to express
the judgement" where "to" is written twice (p. 46); "mostly
founder" instead of "mostly founded" (p. 149); "appkies" instead
of "applies" (p. 260); "wate" instead of "wave" (p. 260); "makes
them corresponds" instead of "makes them correspond" (p. 261);
etc. The following is simply an ungrammatical fragment: "As (2)
cannot be uttered falsely in any context of utterance, and hence
is logically valid" (p. 152). The opposite of "stable" is spelled
as "unstable" (p. 153) and "instable" (p. 154).
This book has offered an approach that not only did away with
recognition of metaphor as a way of evading problems, but also
offered a view of metaphor as Demonstratives, which is hardly
defensible in light of its restricted scope. On this view,
"[m]etaphor is not a syntactic construction or a semantic object
of a specific nature; it is a mode of interpretation" (p. 186),
which is an improvement over the deviation (both syntactic and
semantic) present in many theories. However, although this book
gives the impression of dissolving the problems inherent in the
intractable nature of metaphor as a phenomenon of communication,
it has not solved most of the problems that it rose against and
denounced. As the author himself acknowledges, "the problem of
metaphorical interpretation has been relocated rather than
solved" (249). And after rejecting every single theory including
cognitive theory of metaphor, except that of Kaplan, Stern,
Vygotsky, and Bartsch for obvious reasons, the author adds:
"perhaps some of the difficulties noted above can be resolved by
looking at this process from a cognitive or conceptual
Boers, Frank & Murielle Demecheleer (1998). "A Cognitive Semantic
Approach to Teaching Prepositions." ELT Journal, 52:3, 197-204.
Cienki, Alan (1989). _Spatial Cognition and the Semantics of
Prepositions in English, Polish, and Russian_. M�nchen: Verlag
Cienki, Alan (1998). "Metaphoric Gestures and some of their
Relations to Verbal Metaphoric Expressions." In: Jean-Pierre
Koenig (ed.), _Discourse and Cognition. Bridging the Gap_.
Stanford, California: CSLI Publications, 189-204.
Corts, Daniel P. & Howard R. Pollio (1999). "Spontaneous
Production of Figurative Language and Gesture in College
Lectures." Metaphor and Symbol, 14: 2, 81-100.
Gibbs, Raymond W. Jr. (1994). _The Poetics of Mind. Figurative
Thought, Language, and Understanding_. Cambridge: CUP.
Gibbs, Raymond W. Jr. (1999a). "Taking Metaphor out of our Heads
and Putting it into the Cultural World." In: Raymond W. Gibbs Jr.
& Gerard J. Steen (eds.), _Metaphor in Cognitive Linguistics_.
Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company,
Gibbs, Raymond W. Jr. (1999b). _Intentions in the Experience of
Meaning_. Cambridge: CUP.
Jackendoff, Ray (1983). _Semantics and Cognition_. Cambridge and
London: The MIT Press.
Johnson, Mark (1987). _The Body in the Mind. The Bodily Basis of
Meaning, Imagination, and Reason_. Chicago and London: The
University of Chicago Press.
Johnson, Mark (1993). _Moral Imagination. Implications of
Cognitive Science for Ethics_. Chicago and London: The University
of Chicago Press.
K�vecses, Zoltan (1995). "Anger: Its Language, Conceptualization,
and Physiology in the Light of Cross-cultural Evidence." In: John
R. Taylor & Robert E. MacLaury (eds.), _Language and the
Cognitive Construal of the World_. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter,
K�vecses, Zoltan (1999). "Metaphor: Does it Constitute or Reflect
Cultural Models? In: Raymond W. Gibbs Jr. & Gerard J. Steen
(eds.), _Metaphor in Cognitive Linguistics_. Amsterdam and
Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 167-188.
K�vecses, Zoltan (2000). "The Scope of Metaphor." In: Antonio
Barcelona (ed.), _Metaphor and Metonymy at the Crossroads. A
Cognitive Perspective_. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gryuter,
Lakoff, George (1987). _Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things. What
Categories Reveal about the Mind_. Chicago and London: The
University of Chicago Press.
Lakoff, George (1993). "The Contemporary Theory of Metaphor." In:
A. Ortony (ed.), _Metaphor and Thought_ (second edition).
Cambridge: CUP, 202-251.
Lakoff, George (1996a). "The Metaphor System for Morality." In:
A. E. Goldberg (ed.), _Conceptual Structure, Discourse and
Language_. Stanford: CSLI Publications, 249-266.
Lakoff, George (1996b). "Sorry, I'm not Myself
Today: The Metaphor System for Conceptualizing the Self." In:
Gilles Fauconnier & Eve Sweetser (eds.), _Spaces, Worlds and
Grammar_. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press,
Lakoff, George & Zoltan K�vecses (1987). "The Cognitive Model of
Anger Inherent in American English." In: Dorothy Holland & Noami
Quinn (eds.), _Cultural Models in Language and Thought_.
Cambridge: CUP, 195-221.
Lakoff, George & Mark Turner (1989). _More than Cool Reason. A
Field Guide to Poetic Metaphor_. Chicago and London: The
University of Chicago Press.
Langacker, Ronald W. (1984). "Active Zones." Berkeley Linguistic
Society 10, 172-188.
Langacker, Ronald W. (1986). "Abstract Motion." Berkeley
Linguistic Society 12, 455-471.
Langacker, Ronald W. (1986). _Foundations of Cognitive Grammar
Theoretical Prerequisites_. Stanford: Stanford University Press,
Leech, Geoffrey (1966). "Linguistics and the Figures of
Rhetoric." In: Roger Fowler (ed.), _Essays on Style and
Language_. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 135-156.
Leech, Geoffrey (1973). "Figurative Language." In: _A Linguistic
Guide to English Poetry_. London: Longman, 147-165.
Miller, George A. (1979). "Images and Models, Similes and
Metaphors." In: A. Ortony (ed.), _Metaphor and Thought_.
London/New York: CUP. (first edition), 202-250.
O'Keefe, John (1999). "The Spatial Prepositions in English,
Vector Grammar, and the Cognitive Map Theory." In: Paul Bloom,
Mary A. Peterson, Lynn Nadel & Merrill F. Garrett (eds.),
_Language and Space_. Cambridge and London: The MIT Press, 277-
Ortony, Andrew (1993). "The Role of Similarity in Similes and
Metaphors." In: A. Ortony (ed.), _Metaphor and Thought_. London
and New York: CUP. (second edition), 342-356
Taylor, John R. (1995). _Linguistic Categorization. Prototypes in
Linguistic Theory_. Oxford: Clarendon Press. (second edition).
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
The reviewer is an assistant professor of linguistics. His
interests include cognitive linguistics, metaphor, pragmatics,
cognition-culture interface, critical discourse analysis, sign
language and gesture, stylistics, etc.