LINGUIST List 23.1171

Thu Mar 08 2012

Review: Discourse Analysis; Philosophy of Language: Underhill (2011)

Editor for this issue: Anja Wanner <>

Date: 08-Mar-2012
From: Heather Peterson <>
Subject: Creating Worldviews
E-mail this message to a friend

Discuss this message

Announced at
AUTHOR: James W. UnderhillTITLE: Creating WorldviewsSUBTITLE: Metaphor, Ideology and LanguagePUBLISHER: Edinburgh University PressYEAR: 2011

Heather Walker Peterson, Department of English and Literature, NorthwesternCollege, St. Paul, MN


A follow-up to ''Humboldt, Worldview, and Language,'' James W. Underhill’s book''Creating Worldviews'' is divided into two parts: part one is a review andcritique of metaphor theory, and part two consists of three case studies thattie together discourse analysis and metaphor theory. The book includes a 44-pageglossary (providing explanations with examples of his and other scholars’ keyterms), a bibliography, and a brief index.

Part one begins with Underhill’s explanation of worldview. In chapter 1,“Metaphor and World-Conceiving,” he reviews his past argument, heavilyinfluenced by Humboldt, that worldview regarding language and individuals isbest characterized by five divisions: “world-perceiving,” “world conceiving,”“cultural mindset,” “personal world,” and “perspective.” While“world-perceiving” has to do with people’s understanding of language,“world-conceiving” has to do with people’s forming a worldview as they talk andwrite about their thoughts and emotions (pp. 7 & 203). “Cultural mindset” is aworldview of a political or religious institutions, “personal world” is that ofan individual, and “perspective” emphasizes the constant shifting of anindividual’s world conceiving and perceiving. Underhill affirms Humboldt’spursuit of conceptual connections within language: “the paths offered up by thelanguage system to its language community” (p. 11). As an example of these“networks,” he mentions the word “freedom,” which brings up different images andhistorical notions in the U.S. versus in the former Czechoslovakia (p. 10).Getting into these networks is how we begin to comprehend other worldviews, apoint of view that privileges translators and philologists over formal linguistscomparing structures.

Chapter 2, “A Concern for Metaphor,” and chapter 3, “Metaphors We Live By,” aretwo brief chapters focused on reviewing Lakoff and Johnson’s (1999) work.Although Underhill commends Lakoff and Johnson for their contribution of thoughtas “embodied,” he points out that two neglected non-English theorists, theGerman philosopher Cassirer (1968, 1953) and French rhetorical analyst Matoré(1962) made similar arguments earlier. Underhill also appreciates that Lakoffand Johnson’s theories posit that language “organises” reality for us, thatimagination is primary to thought, and that all language is “metaphoric,”although he sees loss in their blurring of rhetorical categories of figurativelanguage (pp. 22-24). In Chapter 3, he summarizes seven points of Lakoff andJohnson’s work: metaphors “live,” “form systemic constructs,” “highlight andhide,” “often contradict one another,” “are grounded in experience,” “createsimilarity,” and are “the cardinal trope” (pp. 25-29).

Underhill demonstrates in chapter 4, “Other Developments in Metaphor Theory,”that metaphor theory is interdisciplinary, not the domain of cognitivelinguistics exclusively. Philosophers, linguists, literary critics, andrhetorical scholars have all pondered metaphor and often with more narrowdefinitions than those used by cognitive linguists, particularly in thediscipline of rhetoric. His list of philosophers theorizing metaphor runs fromAristotle and Plato to Wittgenstein and Derrida. Ricœur (1975) insisted upon theexamination of metaphor within discourse, casting disregard on the assumptionthat one feature is simplistically transferred from a source to a target. Thelinguist Brook-Rose (1958) gave examples that showed that metaphorical languageis often not as nominal as is frequently assumed. Often, it is adjectival, suchas “the visiting moon” (p. 207, in Underhill 2011, p. 38), or verbal, such as“the ship ploughs the waves” (p. 206, in Underhill 2011, p. 37). Turner andLakoff (1989) explained that literary metaphors, in Underhill’s words, “force usto see the world anew” (p. 39). The scholar of rhetoric Morier (1989)subcategorized metaphor, illustrating its extensiveness in all of language.

In Chapter 5, “Further Cognitive Contributions to Metaphor Theory,” Underhillcovers works of other cognitive metaphor theorists. He appreciates that Eubanks’method has been to study actual speech, showing that “not only do metaphorsshape thought, thought in discourse carves anew the contours of our metaphors”(p. 45). It is not that we are immersed only unconsciously in conceptualmetaphors, but as Eubanks (2000) showed in his Trade-Is-War examples, weconsciously, in Underhill’s words, “invoke” and “harness” metaphors in whatEubanks calls a “discursive strategy.” In this chapter, Underhill also reviewsGoatly’s explanation of the revising of conceptual metaphors to fit into a“history of ideas” (p. 50). He admires Turner and Fauconnier’s (2003) work foran explanation of “blending” of target and source domains, but critiques themand other cognitive linguists for seeking a universalistic approach in metaphorstudies rather than “partial equivalence” (p. 62). Underhill fears that inseeking to show that some conceptual metaphors are common in all languages,cognitive linguists may be unwittingly forcing other languages into an Englishframework.

To illustrate partial equivalence, in chapter 6, “Diversity on the Periphery,”Underhill’s final chapter in part 1 of the book, he reviews studies comparingmetaphor across languages. Key to the rest of the book is the work of Dirven(1985) on lexical extension by metaphor. Underhill explains that one ofDirven’s “motors” for lexical extension was “synaesthesia,” in which one senseactivated another sense, as in the phrase “warm colors,” which Dirven recognizedas associated with fire (Dirven 1985, p. 99, in Underhill 2011, p. 65). Dirvenshowed that metaphors could shape the lexicon through morphology. He providedexamples of the diminutive suffix used in phrases about the heart: “hartje,” asindicating the “inmost part of a place” rather than the non-diminutive form“hart” (Underhill 2011, p. 66).

In part 2 of the book, Underhill dedicates each chapter to a case study ofmetaphors, first in the language of Czechoslovakian communists, then thelanguage of Nazism, and finally language praising one’s own language -- examplesfrom French and English -- and language calling for maintenance of languagediversity. In each of these chapters, he presents primarily the works ofnative-speaker scholars. In Chapter 7, “The Language of Czechoslovak CommunistPower,” he describes essayist Petr Fidelius’s study of the Party newspaper RudéPrávo, in which he concluded that the Party’s language did indeed have a logic.Underhill describes four concepts that were clustered: history, people, Party,and State. Czechoslavakian communists promoted history as a “trajectory” and a“machine” -- a progressive metaphor. The people join this trajectory in bringingabout progress, making anyone who stood in the way of such progress an enemy.The Party as the “nucleus” of the people not only told them what life was butwas responsible for “activating” them as if they were without life or wereasleep before -- a metaphorical twist of objectification that Underhill names“personified reification” (pp.105-106). The “State” was called an organ, but itwas not clearly distinct from the Party. The spatial metaphor of the Party as a“movement” would lead to its decline because of the challenge of the Partyremaining a movement when its destination of a socialist nation appears to havebeen reached. Underhill presents a list of political terms, meant to challengeEnglish-speaking readers to recognize that supposedly equivalent terms in Czechcould mean something somewhat different because of the differing conceptuallinguistic framework, e.g., “politics” defined as “social activity to defendclass interests” (p.119). He concludes the chapter by explaining that one cannotunderstand one of the four concepts without understanding the others. This“cultural mindset,” he reminds us, harnessed concepts already within the Czechlanguage within a particular time period.

Chapter 8, “Hitlerdeutsch: Klemperer and the Language of the Third Reich,”contains an analysis of excerpts of Nazi discourse that may be little known.Underhill claims that Nazi rhetoric with its goal of “perversion” cannot be seenas similar to the Czech communist language with its goal of “reason” and“enlightening.” He hails the German-Jewish philologist Klemperer (2006) as ahero who secretly documented his observations of the language of the ThirdReich, “Hitlerdeutsch.” Nazism reduced the concept of people to mere sentiment,personified “race,” and relied on clichés to act as common sense. Underhillargues that by promoting “purity,” it could demonize Jews as the opposite with abinary definition, essentializing and excluding them. Confusion was a strategyof Nazi rhetoric so that reason would be withheld -- thus, anything thatchallenged Nazism, even socialism, was blamed on the Jews. Underhill illustratesthis by comparing Goebbels’ propaganda with his private diary, showing that hisembrace of only sentiment and his dismissal of reason produced a rhetoric ofracism. Underhill concludes the chapter delineating an ideology’s transformationof language, its re-networking of concepts : “the ideology adapts to thelanguage, and the language…in turn adapts to the ideology” (p.168).

In Underhill’s final case study, “Language in Metaphors,” in chapter 9, hebegins by reviewing historical commentary praising the aesthetics of French withmuch reference to a sardonic work of Henri Meschonnic (1997) on this topic. Themajority of the chapter, however, is a critique of the ecological metaphor oflanguages used by both Académie française member Hagège (2000) and Britishlinguist Crystal (2000) in their arguments for language diversity. Underhillclaims that without entering the study of language as philologists, withoutreally seeing the networking of meaning, such talk makes Hagège and Crystal into“museum curators” (p. 227). Both Hagège and Crystal want it both ways, Underhillargues: diversity and yet a privileged language, French (Hagège) or English(Crystal). Crystal’s insistence that outsiders must save languages whether thespeakers are interested in doing so or not -- to be “stewards” of the garden oflanguages -- has the metaphorical underpinnings of Protestantism, coming in tosave the teeming, unenlightened masses -- a kind of “colonial rhetoric” (p.230). The answer to a concern for language diversity is Humboldt’s “Sprachsinn,”which can only come of individual speech and of language’s relationship toimagination. Underhill applies “Sprachsinn” synonymously with a “sense oflanguage,” describing it as what “stimulates a language’s capacity to welcome usinto its world, enabling us to express that world and thereby act within it andupon it” (perhaps defined as the creative potential of language to perceive andconceive worldviews) (p. 235). Not realizing this connection reveals linguists’disinterest in “perception” and a focus on “conception,” the tendency of mostworldview discussions. It is only individual speakers who can save their ownlanguage: only they know how the world is enlivened through their spokenexpressions.

Underhill’s “Final Word” reminds the reader of some of his themes: certainlyindividuals cannot “escape” languages and worldviews, and yet it is individualswho critique and re-shape them, as literary study has shown us. In the end, helauds “Sprachsinn.”


Certainly, Underhill follows through on what he sees as lacking in metaphorstudies: he shares insights from non-English-speaking scholars, he examinesindividual speech, he translates from other languages, he notes the history ofconcepts, and he demonstrates individuals not being entirely subsumed by thediscourse of a prevailing ideology. For all these characteristics, this book isan invaluable contribution to the field of metaphor studies.

His challenge to linguists that translators and philologists have the upper handin understanding the relationship of worldviews to metaphors is robust (andtherefore worth reading) but occasionally tiresome. Even the structure of thebook seems a subtle affront to linguists. There is the apparent disjunction oftwo chapters critiquing regimes’ discourses followed by one critiquing discourseabout language by Western European scholars. Underhill is intent on showing thatit takes someone remarkable, such as Fidelius and Klemperer, to resist and “tomake a difference” (p. 238) within dominant discourses, even those which are notpolitical. It cannot be accidental that he juxtaposes the work of Meschonnic(likely somewhat of a tribute to a late friend), a brilliant translator whosarcastically described those who glorify French, with the works of linguists,Crystal’s praise of English and Hagège’s devotion to French. For Underhill,Meschonnic is one who has “made a difference” in studies of language, and herefers to him again in his second to last paragraph of the book before ending onHumboldt.

In its description of the relation of ideology to language, this book will behelpful for a wide range of readers, particularly a reader pondering the ethicsof an ideology’s language production. We “invoke” or “harness” conceptualmetaphors that are often conflicting. In part, as Lakoff and Johnson (1980) havewritten, the contradictory nature of multiple metaphors may help us to seemultiple perspectives. Also, as Underhill demonstrates with Crystal’s views onlanguage, contradiction to some extent is unavoidable since even thinkers andwriters cannot entirely escape a cultural mindset despite their resistance tothe clichés that ideologies are dependent on. For a prevailing ideology,contradiction may be unintended, spread by propaganda, perhaps even produced bydisparate institutions and individuals, such as journalists from democratic,western nations. With his study of Nazi rhetoric, Underhill describes asituation when conflicting metaphors became an intended “perversion,” leading toatrocities such as genocide. Yet he also characterizes the demanding time periodof Germany post-World War I and the availability of metaphors to be invoked fromboth science and the church.

Besides cognitive linguists, this book will also be invaluable for criticaldiscourse analysts wishing to incorporate the study of metaphor into their workand for ethnographers who examine the history of the community of theirresearch, as well as for scholars of rhetoric and of worldview. Readers might,as I did, have to review frequently Underhill’s various subcategories ofworldview in the glossary (a definite plus, given the brevity of the index). Itmay be that I am biased toward “world-conceiving” as he suggests, since I oftenhad to re-think the shade of difference with the term “world-perceiving.”Likewise, readers may be intrigued by the notion of “Sprachsinn” but may be leftwondering if it is not described just as idealistically and romantically asHagège’s and Crystal’s promotions of an ecological metaphor of language.


Brook-Rose, Christine. 1965 (1958). A grammar of metaphor. London: D. R. Hilmanand Sons.

Cassirer, Ernst. 1968 (1925). The philosophy of symbolic forms, volume one:Language. Trans. Ralph Manheim. New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press.

Cassirer, Ernst. 1953 (1946). Language and myth. Trans. Susanne K. Langer. NewYork: Dover.

Crystal, David. 2000. Language death. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dirven, René. 1985. Metaphor as a basic means of extending the lexicon. In WolfPaprotté & René Dirven (eds.), The ubiquity of metaphor: Amsterdam studies inthe theory and history of linguistic science, 84-119. Amsterdam andPhiladelphia, PA: John Benjamins.

Eubanks, Phillips. 2000. A war of words in the discourse of trade: Therhetorical construction of metaphor. Carbondale and Edwardsville, IL: SouthernIllinois University Press.

Fauconnier, Gilles & Mark Turner. 2003 (2002). The way we think: Conceptualblending and the mind’s hidden complexities. New York: Basic Books.

Fidelius, Petr. 1998. Řeč komunistické. Prague: Triada.

Goatly, Andrew. 2007. Washing the brain: Metaphor and hidden ideology. Amsterdamand Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins.

Hagège, Claude. 2000. Halte à las mort des langues. Paris: Odile Jacob.

Klemperer, Victor. 2006 (2000). The language of the Third Reich: LTI LinguaTertii Imperii. Trans. Martin Brady. London & New York, NY: Continuum.

Lakoff, George & Mark Johnson. 1999. Philosophy in the flesh. Chicago:University of Chicago Press.

Lakoff, George & Mark Turner. 1989. More than cool reason: A field guide topoetic metaphor. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Matoré, Georges. 1962. L’Espace humain. Paris: La Colombe.

Meschonnic, Henri. 1997. De la langue française: Essai sur une claret obscure.Paris: Hachette

Morier, Henri. 1981 (1961). Dictionnaire de poétique et de rhétorique, 4th edn.Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Ricœur, Paul. 1975. La métaphore vive. Paris: Seuil.

Underhill, James W. 2009. Humboldt, worldview and language. Edinburgh: EdinburghUniversity Press.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Heather Walker Peterson studies the relationship of language, religion, and identity. Her research has been linguistic ethnography, combining the overlapping theories of the New Literacy Studies, ethnicity studies, and discursive approaches to identity by applied linguists. She is currently working on articles about the language and collective non-identity of a Slavic migrant congregation.

Page Updated: 08-Mar-2012