LINGUIST List 28.2944

Thu Jul 06 2017

Review: Cognitive Science; Discourse Analysis; Pragmatics: Herrmann, Sardinha (2015)

Editor for this issue: Clare Harshey <>

Date: 24-Jan-2017
From: Leila Khabbazi-Oskouei <>
Subject: Metaphor in Specialist Discourse
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Book announced at

EDITOR: J. Berenike Herrmann
EDITOR: Tony Berber Sardinha
TITLE: Metaphor in Specialist Discourse
SERIES TITLE: Metaphor in Language, Cognition, and Communication 4
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2015

REVIEWER: Leila Khabbazi-Oskouei, University of East Anglia

Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


“Metaphor in Specialist Discourse” is a collection of articles edited by J. Berenike Hermann and Tony Berber Sardinha aiming at investigating the role of metaphor in various kinds of specialist discourse. The volume comprises four main sections: Metaphor variation in specialist discourse, Metaphor in specific contexts, Metaphor in science writing and Metaphor and popularization. The contributions to this volume were selected from papers delivered at the 2010 Researching and Applying Metaphor Conference in Amsterdam.

In the Introduction, the editors introduce the overall purpose, theoretical background and structure of the volume. They put a strong emphasis on the importance of the empirical approach and naturally occurring data. Their main purpose is to focus on the topic of metaphor and discourse specialization. One of the key terms underlying the volume is Biber and colleagues’ notion of register (Biber 1988; Biber & Conrad 2009; Biber et al. 1999), understood as a language variety influenced by contextual (situational) factors. The other concept is Swales’ (1990, 2004) notion of genre. Applying Biber’s concept of register and Swales’ concept of genre, the editors intend to render a unified approach to specialist discourse. In this regard, they define metaphor as set at the level of discourse; that is, they identify metaphor “at the linguistic/gestural level of analysis as well as the level of underlying conceptual structure and that of language processing and communication” (p. 8). Bearing in mind that metaphor is difficult to identify in a reliable and accurate way especially in a specialized discourse setting, the editors claim that they have tried to maintain rigor and explicitness in metaphor identification on all applicable levels of analysis.

The section ‘Metaphor Variation in Specialist Discourse’, which includes two studies by Tony Berber Sardinha and Anke Berger, suggests that metaphor use varies both within and across particular domains of discourse due to specific factors.

In the first study ‘Register variation and metaphor use. A multi-dimensional perspective’, Sardinha examines metaphor variation on a quantitative basis across different registers (academic prose, news, fiction and conversation) on a cline from more specialized to non-specialized discourse. Sardinha finds a strong statistical association between the existing dimensions for English and metaphor use. However, a possible ‘natural environment’ for metaphor use is suggested (p. 27). The author identifies four dimensions of variation, two of which replicates Biber’s (1988) dimensions. The other two are novel metaphor-related dimensions that include metaphor in different degrees. Sardinha believes that these dimensions suggest that registers vary with respect to metaphor density and stance expression. In other words, metaphor density seems to be differently distributed across registers.

In the second article entitled ‘Metaphor in psychology genres. Counseling vs. academic lectures’, Berger analyzes metaphor use in specialist discourse by comparing ‘anger’ and ‘love’ metaphor use in the two different genres of online counseling and academic lectures. Berger argues that due to the differences in the audiences of the two genres, that is, their position at the expert-lay cline and their specific expectations of the discourse, there is a distinct pattern of metaphor use. The author finds out that the metaphor use of psychology experts seems to be highly influenced by the discourse goal, the discourse structure and the discourse participants. Whereas the academic experts may wish to change their students’ naïve conceptualizations of ‘love’ and ‘anger’ into expert theories, the goal of the counselors is to intervene practically with personal problems of lay clients. Therefore, in case of ‘love’ counselors use conceptual metaphors involving aspects of activity, creation and responsibility of partners (e.g. ‘love is a living organism’, ‘love is a structured object’). In case of ‘anger’ they aim at conveying a concept of the emotion that involves the possibility to reduce anger and aggressive behavior (‘anger is a weapon’ and one can control it by determining the direction it points to). On the other hand, academic experts frequently apply metaphors that are tightly connected to specific theories of ‘love’ that regard romantic relationships as ‘business transaction’ or ‘anger as a fluid in a container’.

Section III entitled ‘Metaphor in Specific Contexts’ consists of three articles that discuss the forms and functions of metaphor use in different specialist discourse environments. In the first article entitled ‘Payback and punishment. Figurative language in Scottish penal policy’, Deignan and Armstrong discuss the most frequently used lexical metaphors and metonyms in a sociologically significant corpus consisting of the four key policy documents of the penal reform programme. Their objectives are to analyze the entailments that these metaphors have, and how they frame the topics of the texts, and to consider the use of ‘payback’ as a metaphor in the texts, given its salience in Scottish discourse around penal policy. They believe the analysis shows the contribution that figurative language analysis can make to a sociological analysis of thinking around contemporary issues.

The second contribution to this part is by Elmar Thalhammer entitled ‘They have to die for the goals. ‘war’ metaphor in English and German football radio community’. This study analyzes linguistic and conceptual metaphors in two corpora of radio commentaries in English and German. The aim of the study is to compare how the source domain ‘war’ is used to talk about football in English and German and to demonstrate the variability of metaphor in this particular register (p. 103). Thalhammer uses a theoretical framework based on Lakoff and Johnson’s (1980) Conceptual Metaphor Theory and approaches metaphor as language (as opposed to thought) and as symbolic structure (as opposed to behavior); he also examines it in usage (as opposed to grammar). The author argues that there is a striking difference in the two corpora with regard to ‘football is war’.

The third article in this section is ‘The production line as a context for low metaphoricity. Exploring links between gestures, iconicity, and artifacts on a factory shop floor’. In this article Simon Harrison approaches technical metaphor use on a multimodal level and discusses metaphor in gestures used on the work floor of a French salmon factory. The main aim of the study is to demonstrate that the gestures involved in technical communication were constrained to concrete reference (p. 132). The author argues that the gesture forms observed in technical communication along the production line exhibit metonymic mappings within the source domain of raw materials, machinery and production processes, but lack metaphoric mappings to abstract target domains (p. 132). This is mainly due to the noisy environment and situations in which communication has to be fast and speakers need to focus on short and highly salient messages.

Section IV focuses on ‘Metaphor in Science Writing’ and includes three studies analyzing science writing. In the first article entitled ‘High on metaphor, low on simile? An examination of metaphor type in sub-registers of academic prose’, J. Berenike Herrmann presents a quantitative analysis of distinct metaphor types (indirect, implicit and direct) across sub-registers of academic prose (humanities arts, natural sciences, politics, law and education, social sciences) combining a genre and register analysis. Herrmann suggests that metaphor use in academic prose depends on sub-register and discipline; that is, the specialist discourse with its internal setup has an influence in metaphor type in terms of word frequency, and also seems to regulate its particular communicative functions (p. 186).

In the second contribution in this section, ‘A mere metaphor? Framing of the concept of metaphor in biological specialist communication’, Sanne Knudsen assesses the attitudes towards metaphor reflected in contemporary research articles from biology. The author combines genre and register analysis in order to study different framings of metaphor by means of a corpus-based method. The aim of the study is to investigate the characteristics of the term ‘metaphor’ in a corpus of biological texts and to detect a pattern of context associated to the particular framings. The author maintains that there are two main positions regarding the emergence of metaphor in science: the classic, internalist framing of metaphor maintaining that metaphor should be avoided or sanitized; and a more externalist discursive framing maintaining that metaphor is an integral part of scientific thought, discourse and communication. The aim of the researcher is to investigate what characteristics metaphor is associated with, and to detect a pattern of context associated to the particular framings: that is, whether one particular framing of metaphor was more established in a particular sub-discipline or sub-genre.

In the last article in this section entitled ‘Dynamical systems metaphors’, Thomas H. Smith uses conceptual metaphor theory to investigate how ‘dynamical systems theory’ is used in educational scientific texts from six disciplines: cognitive psychology, linguistics, transportation studies, social psychology, evolutionary biology and business management. Dynamical systems theory was first used to describe the movement of celestial bodies. Later it was applied to different fields such as chemistry, physics, medicine and so on. The purpose of the study is to see if dynamical systems specialists choose or form metaphors especially useful to non-specialists in understanding these systems.

Section V is devoted to ‘Metaphor and popularization’ and contains two articles examining aspects of metaphor use when communicating to a general public. The first article by Julia T. Williams Camus entitled ‘Metaphor, news discourse and Knowledge’, uses a corpus of English and Spanish newspaper articles on cancer to analyze the role of metaphor and to determine how metaphor helps to decontextualize scientific knowledge in popularization articles in the press. The author finds out that metaphors, particularly personification and mechanistic metaphors are used in the press in order to bring abstract and complex phenomena closer to the readers in a familiar way. The author compares metaphor preferences in the English and Spanish data.

In the final article entitled ‘Metaphor as a tools of enrolment. A case study exploration of the policy press release genre in regards to the Alberta SuperNet’, Amanda Williams looks at metaphor use in the policy press release genre in regards to a Canadian Broadband Network (the Alberta SuperNet). Williams highlights the important role of metaphors in the realm of the genre of policy by identifying the dominant metaphors and questioning the way these metaphors were being deployed.

In the final section of the volume, ‘Metaphor in specialist discourse. Insights and implications for metaphor studies and beyond’, Jeannette Littlemore provides a summary of the contributions of this book.


Overall, ‘Metaphor in specialist discourse’ presents exciting insights exploring different aspects of metaphor in a variety of specialist discourse including written and spoken, formal and informal, academic and non-academic. One of the strengths of the volume, according to Littlemore (p. 299) is that all the authors have used real-life data to explore the roles played by metaphors in everyday language and other forms of communication. However, there will always remain some issues in need of further exploration. One of the issues as Littlemore (p. 306) puts forward, is the relation between metaphors identified for the specialist discourses and classic Lakoff and Johnson’s (1980) conceptual metaphors. The other issue is whether metaphors are used deliberately in specialist discourses. The articles in this volume could instigate new thoughts and further investigations in these areas.


Biber, D. 1988. Variation across speech and writing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Biber, D. & Conrad, S. 2009. Register, genre, and style. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511814358

Biber, D., Johansson, S., Leech, G., Conrad, S., & Finegan, E. 1999. The Longman grammar of spoken and written English. London: Longman.

Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. 1980. Metaphors we live by. Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press.

Swales, J. 1990. Genre analysis: English in academic and research settings. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.

Swales, J. 2004. Research genres: Explorations and applications. New York: Cambridge University Press.


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