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Review of  Metaphor and Gender in Business Media Discourse

Reviewer: Heli Tissari
Book Title: Metaphor and Gender in Business Media Discourse
Book Author: Veronika Koller
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 15.3242

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Date: Mon, 15 Nov 2004 17:23:47 +0200
From: Heli Tissari
Subject: Metaphor and Gender in Business Media Discourse

AUTHOR: Koller, Veronika
TITLE: Metaphor and Gender in Business Media Discourse
SUBTITLE: A Critical Cognitive Study
PUBLISHER: Palgrave Macmillan
YEAR: 2004

Heli Tissari, Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, University of Helsinki

The topic of this book is highly relevant in today's international society.
Koller herself suggests that her linguistic study could be a step towards
alleviating "literal combat fatigue" and "post-traumatic stress disorder"
created by an aggressive working climate (p. 174). She is interested in the
kind of metaphors that dominate business media discourse, and in their
effect. Based on her Ph.D. thesis (Koller 2003), the book nicely presents her
research, but is hardly suitable to be used as an introduction to metaphor,
gender or business discourse studies.

The data came from four journals, Business Week, The Economist, Fortune,
and the Financial Times. Koller's research strategy was to focus on certain
lexical fields in order to identify the relevant metaphors and to see what
kind of patterns they formed in the data. She then provided both
quantitative and qualitative information on the findings. She looked at and
compared two kinds of issues discussed in business media, 'marketing' as
against 'mergers and acquisitions´. She was interested in the lexical fields
of 'war', 'sports', 'games', 'romance', 'evolutionary struggle', and 'dancing'.
The analysis is presented deftly and concisely.

The overall impression is that the book is well edited. It is compact, but
includes the information necessary to replicate the study.

Chapter one, "Introduction: Masculinized Metaphors", is relatively brief. It
justifies the author's interest in aggressive metaphors, but does not
define 'gender' or 'masculinity', which is regrettable.

Chapter two, "Theory: A Critical Cognitive Framework for Metaphor
Research", provides an overview of what Koller calls 'Classical cognitive
metaphor theory' (Lakoff & Johnson 1980), 'Blending and neural theories of
metaphor' (Lakoff & Johnson 1999, Fauconnier & Turner 2002), and 'Critical
approaches to language' (Halliday 1994 [1978], Fairclough 1995). These
she combines in an 'Integrated approach'. This is a reasonable enterprise:
metaphor and blending are thus integrated as tools for critical discourse
analysis, and the cognitive metaphor theory is nested in a society of human
beings with various positions and intentions.

It might nevertheless be worthwhile at this point to call attention to
Musolff's (2004: 424) claim that there already exists a "considerable amount
of empirical research that has applied cognitivist metaphor theory to critical
discourse analysis", beginning from Lakoff (1992, 1996) himself. Such
research is merely mentioned in passing by Koller, who is of a different
opinion, suggesting that "theoretical integration of metaphor into critical
approaches to discourse ... is quite marginal and often incomplete" (p. 29).
A balanced view might be that Koller's research has important
predecessors, but it is still quite a welcome contribution and, it is to be
hoped, not her last one. One could safely say that her "voice" is quite
different from Lakoff's.

Chapter three, "Method: Quantitative and Qualitative Analyses of Metaphor",
describes the data and method. In terms of method, Koller relied on
defining the lexical fields, i.e. on compiling lists of words to be used to
locate the metaphors in the texts studied. Being a semanticist myself, I
would have liked to know even more about the compilation of these lists, a
process which, she claims, "cannot be fully operationalized", but must also
depend on the author's "previous knowledge" (p. 48). However, once the
fields are established, Koller points out that the study yields (1) "absolute
frequencies of metaphoric expressions and metaphor density", (2) "in the
case of metaphor clusters, relative frequency [sic] of metaphoric
expressions", and (3) "relative frequency [sic] of metaphoric expressions
across word classes and domains" (p. 51).

Chapter four, "Business Media on Marketing: Metaphors of War, Sports and
Games", presents the first half of the results. It also includes four sample
texts together with qualitative comments. The same applies to Chapter
five, "Business Media on Mergers and Acquisitions", which presents the
second half of the results. Some words on 'marketing' on the one hand,
and 'mergers and acquisitions' on the other, might have been in place for
the benefit of readers interested in metaphors and gender but not
especially familiar with business media. Otherwise, it is intriguing to see
what Koller does with her data.

First, she provides her readers with tables presenting the lexical fields
of 'war', 'sports', 'games', and 'romance' in the first case, and 'evolutionary
struggle' and 'dancing' in the second. These tables list the nouns, verbs and
adjectives/adverbs included in the fields. The fields of 'romance'
and 'dancing' are included as potential counterforces to the more
aggressive fields, but eventually do not appear to behave that way in the
data. The war metaphor is "quantitatively most prominent" in the data
on 'marketing' (p. 71), and the sub-field 'fighting' within 'evolutionary
struggle' is the "most frequent in the corpus [of 'mergers and acquisitions']
in both absolute and relative terms" (p. 124).

The qualitative analyses of four exemplary texts flesh out the picture and
show variation within and between them. The discussion covers metaphoric
scenarios, metaphor chains, processes of (metaphor) intensification,
attenuation and literalization, primary and secondary discourse (whose are
the metaphors?), and text structure.

Koller suggests in the last chapter, "Conclusion: Gender-neutral
metaphors", that "journalists should rise to the challenge of at least
proposing non-violent metaphors" for business media discourse (p. 178).
In her view, this could even lead to a more humane understanding of what
leadership is and to a decrease in unnecessary stress and physical illness in
corporate communities.

Throughout the book, Koller makes interesting comments and
observations. Some examples are given below.

Explication of the human conceptual system does not yet suffice to explain
the usage of metaphors, but one needs to take into account socio-cultural
factors such as "how much freedom text producers have" in their writing (p.
27). "[C]hoice of metaphor reveals a vested interest in elevating or
downgrading a person or group[.]" (p. 32) "[P]roductivity shows in the
degree of a metaphor's conventionalization rather than in its frequency[.]"
(p. 125) "If social cognition controls mental models through discourse,
widely shared preferred (that is, hegemonic) models lend cohesion to a
group's beliefs and thus help to predict group members' actions." (p. 36)

"Conceptualizing the market as a narrow, bounded space too small for two
companies to be active in, puts the focus on a metaphoric fight for space[.]"
(p. 82) "[T]he lexical fields have shown that the concept of war ... permeates
the other two domains [of 'sports' and 'games'], but not vice versa[.]" (p.
73) "Interestingly, the two British publications both convey a fairly low
percentage of the GAMES metaphor. By contrast, the two US magazines
together account for three-quarters of all metaphoric expressions of
games." (p. 81)

"[L]iving in an environment conceptualized metaphorically as being highly
aggressive, if not a war zone, may bring about ethical problems in making it
easier to accept behaviour -- such as unchecked ruthlessness and
brutality -- otherwise considered to be problematic ... However, a market
economy and its inherent competition need not be conceptualized in terms
of excessive aggression and antagonism ... a metaphor can capture the idea
of competition in a non-violent way[.]" (pp. 174--175)

"[T]he targeted company is metaphorically female. Aggression and more
gentle ways of persuasion thus come to represent two means to the same
end[.]" ( p. 128) "[T]he DANCING metaphor ... is telling that the acquired
company is feminized and as such identified as static, with the acquirer
being depicted implicitly as the dynamic male moving towards the potential
dancing partner." (p. 151) "[A] company always has to be moving in relation
to one or several others, albeit with different intentions. The emergent
model thus looks rather dynamic." (p. 135)

In the final example, she makes a different kind of linguistic point.

"[T]he original aim of including an equal number of nouns, verbs and
adjectives/adverbs in each [lexical] field could not be met." There emerged
a nominal bias, which the author attempted to lessen (p. 49). A similar
nominal bias was nevertheless identified in the data (pp. 71, 124).

While I liked many of Koller's ideas, I also felt compelled to comment on and
ask questions about the book. I will now share these thoughts, beginning
with the question of how to fruitfully integrate several theoretical
approaches. Obviously, one does it to gain a better grasp of the object
studied by seeing it from a wider perspective. There is nothing wrong with
that, quite the contrary. However, with each specific approach, the
researcher simultaneously runs the very same risk of reduction that
threatens him or her in regard to the subject-matter if s/he embraces a
single theoretical approach.

Koller controls these problems by restricting her comments on each
linguistic approach to an educated minimum, and by elaborating on their
integration. It is a sound choice considering the limits of the medium, but it
makes it difficult to fully appreciate the contributions of the individual
theories to the whole framework. The essential themes of gender,
masculinity, aggression and hegemony could also have been discussed
more thoroughly. The glue that holds the book together is more implicit
than suggested in the title.

What also holds the book together are the lexical fields introduced as tools
for discovering the metaphors. Given their prominence in the book, it is
somewhat surprising that the theoretical part does not include a discussion
of lexical field theory (see e.g. Lehrer & Kittay 1992).

Consequently, Koller's success in managing her enterprise so well seems to
depend on overlooking certain issues in favour of her main argument -- a
decision that both makes sense and leaves several questions open. Perhaps
the best thing to do is to look for further answers in other books. One
reason why it makes a lot of sense for Koller to avoid discussing the general
characteristics of gender and discourse, at least from the publisher's point
of view, is that another book on the subject came out this year (Sunderland
2004). However, Koller does not explicitly mention this.

There are also other recent publications that Koller may or may not have
known about or expected to be published. Two of these, which have
something to do with metaphor research, are the volume on metaphors and
ideology, edited by Dirven, Frank and Pütz (2003), and Jäkel's (2003a & b)
further publications on metaphors and the language of commerce.

As I am somewhat partial to my home university, Koller's suggestion (p.
166) that one should investigate the relationships between business media
texts, their readers, the interviewees, and the journalists reminded me of
Solin's (2001) research on similar issues, especially as it was also inspired
by Fairclough's work. Since Koller also deals with the themes of romance
and sexuality, she might have taken a look at Coleman (1999) for a
comprehensive presentation of these lexical fields. One also wonders
whether it might not have been useful to read the good old Oxford English
Dictionary side by side with the dictionaries focusing on current usage (p.

Again on the subject of metaphors, Koller's suggestion to provide statistical
data on them was intriguing, since many researchers still struggle with their
identification (Steen & Gibbs, in preparation). The idea of using lexical fields
to find metaphors is valuable, but it is important to remember that Koller's
statistics only concern the already established fields, and do not help in
identifying all the other metaphors in the data. The empirical questions
therefore remain, in terms of how metaphorical the language of business
media discourse is, and how frequent aggressive metaphors are compared
with other types.

If she is looking for more comprehensive empirical results, Koller might
need to revise her stance towards prepositions, which she disregarded in
this study (p. 49). This suggestion is supported by the fact that she so
clearly showed that the metaphors she had studied had to with dynamic
activity (pp. 106, 162). However, I do not censure her for choosing to
disregard prepositions thus far, because they still seem to pose a challenge
to cognitive metaphor theory per se. I have had several discussions with
colleagues on the issue of when a preposition is used metaphorically, and
once such a discussion ensues, differing opinions usually linger in the air.

It annoyed me a little that Koller took the coupling of masculinity and
aggression as given, and disregarded the possibility of any kind of feminine
violence. I also doubt whether changing the language of business media
would change human ruthlessness. I even ask myself whether a world war
is, in fact, raging in global business, a war that has largely replaced direct
military attacks with more indirect but equally real violence. This was
suggested in Susan George's article in The Guardian, 15th October 2004,
for example, which included her manifesto:

"We propose instead the rule of law to curb the insatiable appetites of
transnational corporations and financial markets; social solidarity with the
poor and weak wherever they may live; and participatory democracy as the
means to defend and improve the 'welfare model'."

The moral issues that Koller touched on in her book are nevertheless very
important, and people should continue investigating them from a linguistic
perspective as well.

In conclusion, Koller's linguistic research is entirely professional and her
book can be recommended to anyone interested in the subject. The book
could be used both as a reference for its empirical results, and as a source
of inspiration for further study.


Dirven, René, Roslyn Frank & Martin Pütz. 2003. Cognitive Models in
Language and Thought: Ideology, Metaphors and Meanings. Berlin & New
York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Coleman, Julie. 1999. Love, Sex, and Marriage: A Historical Thesaurus.
Amsterdam & Atlanta: Rodopi.

Fairclough, Norman. 1995. Critical Discourse Analysis: The Critical Study of
Language. London & New York: Longman.

Fauconnier, Gilles & Mark Turner. 2002. The Way We Think: Conceptual
Blending and the Mind's Hidden Complexities. New York: Basic Books.

George, Susan. 2004. "This is the Way to Win." The Guardian, 15th October.
Internet version at Accessed 3 November

Halliday, M.A.K. 1994 (1978). Language as Social Semiotic: The Social
Interpretation of Language and Meaning. London & New York & Melbourne
& Auckland: Edward Arnold.

Jäkel, Olaf. 2003a. Wie Metaphern Wissen schaffen: Die kognitive
Metapherntheorie und ihre Anwendung in Modell-Analysen der
Diskursbereiche Geistestätigkeit, Wirtschaft und Religion. (Philologia --
Sprachwissenschaftliche Forschungsergebnisse, Bd. 59.) Hamburg: Verlag
Dr. Kovac.

Jäkel, Olaf. 2003b. "Motion Metaphorized in the Economic Domain."
Motivation in Language: Studies in Honor of Günter Radden, ed. by Hubert
Cuyckens, Thomas Berg, René Dirven & Klaus-Uwe Panther. (Current Issues
in Linguistic Theory Vol. 243.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 297--318.

Koller, Veronika. 2003. Metaphor Clusters in Business Media Discourse: A
Social Cognition Approach. Ph.D. thesis. Vienna: University of Vienna.
Internet version at> Accessed 4 November 2004.

Lakoff, George. 1992. "Metaphor and war: The metaphor system used to
justify war in the gulf." Thirty Years of Linguistic Evolution: Studies in
Honour of René Dirven on the Occasion of his Sixtieth Birthday, ed. by
Martin Pütz. Philadelphia & Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 463--481.

Lakoff, George. 1996. Moral Politics: What Conservatives Know That Liberals
Don't. Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press.

Lakoff, George & Mark Johnson. 1980. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago:
Chicago University Press.

Lakoff, George & Mark Johnson. 1999. Philosophy in the Flesh: The
Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought. New York: Basic

Lehrer, Adrienne & Eva Feder Kittay. 1992. Frames, Fields and Contrasts:
New Essays in Semantic and Lexical Organisation. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence

Musolff, Andreas. 2004. Review of Michiel Leezenberg's Contexts of
Metaphor (Amsterdam: Elsevier 2001), Cognitive Linguistics 15--3, 420--

Oxford English Dictionary, the. Internet version at
Accessed 3 November 2004.

Solin, Anna. 2001. Tracing Texts: Intertextuality in Environmental
Discourse. (Pragmatics, Ideology and Contacts Monographs 2.) University of
Helsinki: Department of English.

Steen, Gerard J. & Raymond W. Gibbs jr. In preparation. Finding Metaphor in
Language and Thought. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Sunderland, Jane. 2004. Gendered Discourses. Basingstoke & New York:
Palgrave Macmillan.


Heli Tissari, Ph.D., is currently a Fellow at the Helsinki Collegium for
Advanced Studies. Her research project concerns the history of English
emotion words since the beginning of the modern era, and she is especially
interested in cognitive/conceptual metaphors occurring nearby these

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