LINGUIST List 30.4226

Thu Nov 07 2019

Review: Cognitive Science; Psycholinguistics; Semantics: Speed, O'Meara, San Roque, Majid (2019)

Editor for this issue: Jeremy Coburn <>

Date: 11-Jul-2019
From: Heli Tissari <>
Subject: Perception Metaphors
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Laura J. Speed
EDITOR: Carolyn O'Meara
EDITOR: Lila San Roque
EDITOR: Asifa Majid
TITLE: Perception Metaphors
SERIES TITLE: Converging Evidence in Language and Communication Research 19
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2019

REVIEWER: Heli Tissari, Stockholm University, Sweden


I carried the book Perception Metaphors with me while travelling in Central Europe. Thus, I read about perceiving the taste of wine during a flight between two wine countries, Italy and Germany. It seemed quite apt. The topic of this book, edited by Laura J. Speed, Carolyn O’Meara, Lila San Roque and Asifa Majid, is rather concrete; it is very close to our physical experience. It is also an important topic for cognitive linguists and psycholinguists in many ways. For example, a basic tenet of conceptual metaphor theory is that we understand abstract concepts in terms of more concrete ones. Kövecses (2002: 6) writes: “[C]onceptual metaphors typically employ a more abstract concept as target and a more concrete or physical concept as their source.”


The editors themselves underline three issues in their introductory chapter to the volume. They first discuss the relationship between metaphor and perception and divide perception metaphors into three categories. The first one consists of metaphors which employ perception as a source domain; the second one comprises metaphors which have perception as a target domain, that is, characterize perception itself; and the third one subsumes metaphors which help us understand one kind of perception in terms of another kind (p. 3). Secondly, the editors write about the directionality of perception metaphors. A major aspect of this is the question whether it tends to be the case that target domains tend to be more abstract, and source domains more physical. However, it is also interesting to see in what ways we can use one kind of perception to understand another kind, since metaphorical mappings do not extend into all directions. Thirdly, the editors emphasize the diversity of perception metaphors and the topics covered by their volume. Their aim has been to cover “perception metaphor around the globe”, which is why they have included “a diverse sample of languages, time periods, and genres” (p. 9).

The book begins with the reprint of a chapter from a previous book, Constance Classen’s (1993) Worlds of Sense. The reprinted chapter is titled “Words of sense”, and it first discusses languages in general rather than focusing on a particular language, and then turns to English vocabulary. Much of the discussion centers on etymologies of words. The first half of the chapter comprises a general discussion of words related to different senses, and the second half consists of a list of words whose origins in perception are explained briefly. The list includes such English words as ‘blatant’, ‘comprehend’, ‘dull’, ‘eager’, ‘intelligent’, ‘pungent’, ‘scent’, and ‘tone’.

There are in fact several chapters in the volume that deal with perception metaphors from a general or theoretical perspective. Chapter Three is written by Iraide Ibarretxe-Antuñano, and it deals with the scope, motivation, and lexicalization of perception metaphors. In other words, she asks which target domains can be understood with the help of perception, which aspects of perception motivate such metaphors, and what kind of lexical expressions ensue in various languages.

The title of Chapter Six makes the claim that “[s]ynaesthetic metaphors are neither synaesthetic nor metaphorical”. Bodo Winter’s claim is based on two ideas. One is that “sensory perception is neurophysiologically and psychologically continuous” (p. 121); the other is that when we talk about sweet music, for example, we are not metaphorically transferring sweetness of taste to a quality of music but using the adjective in a more general, categorical sense that is culturally determined to apply across various domains of experience.

Zoltán Kövecses’s ambitious aim in Chapter Sixteen is to cover the case of smell. He suggests that conceptual metaphor theory can help us uncover the conceptual structure of smell which overlaps to some extent with the conceptual structure of emotion but also differs from it in crucial respects. He then moves on to consider smell as a source domain and as a target domain. The latter investigation leads him to discover three important aspects of smell which metaphors tend to accentuate: its existence and intensity, and its experiencers’ lack of control over it.

Kövecses’s discussion appears to be entirely based on the English language. The same applies to Chapter Nine where Nina Julich considers the metaphorical basis of musical motion. She begins by looking at musical notation and considering musical theory as well as conceptual metaphor theory, but moves on to analyze texts representing music criticism. She suggests that musical motion could be understood in terms of fictive motion.

In contrast, Ulrike Zeshan and Nick Palfreyman cover several sign languages in Chapter Fourteen on sensory perception metaphors in sign languages. They begin to coin a language for discussing matters that relate specifically to sign languages. An important difference between spoken and sign languages is that the latter potentially involves iconicity, that is, the signs that refer both to literal and metaphorical perception often involve sensory organs such as the ears or the eyes. They call such metaphors “double-stage metaphors” (p. 181).

Because the book has as many as seventeen chapters, I will continue summarizing it with the help of the editors’ suggestion that the book covers a “diverse sample of languages” (p. 9). Apart from the above mentioned chapters, data in English is analyzed by Wendy Anderson (“Perception metaphor in English: A bird’s-eye view”), Rosario Caballero (“Sensory experiences, meaning and metaphor: The case of wine”), and Kobin H. Kendrick (“Evidential vindication in next turn: Using the retrospective ‘see?’”). However, several other languages also play a role. Francesca Strik Lievers and Irene Da Felice are interested in the history of the Italian language (“Metaphors and perception in the lexicon: A diachronic perspective”); Elisabeth Steinbach-Eicke writes about “[t]aste metaphors in hieroglyphic Egyptian”; Mariann Proos analyzes the “[p]olysemy of the Estonian perception verb nägema ‘to see’”; Yufuko Takashima tells us about “[m]etaphors of perception in Japanese sign language”; and Lila San Roque and Bambi B. Schieffelin look at perception verbs in Kaluli (Bosawi) child-caregiver interaction in Papua New Guinea. In addition, there are chapters dealing with English and other languages. Daria Ryzhova, Ekaterina Rakhilina and Lilya Kholkina are generally interested in perceptual qualities and write about “the case of heavy”, considering it from a typological perspective. Marcin Trojszczak, in his turn, writes about mental metaphors that are grounded in touch, comparing English and Polish.

As can be seen even from the names of the chapters, the book also covers diverse time periods. When Anderson uses the expression “bird’s-eye view”, she refers to the entire history of the English language, as represented in the Historical Thesaurus of English. Her chapter includes both an overview of perception categories, and separate sections on touch, smell and taste. Strik Lievers and De Felice consider both Classical Latin and Contemporary Italian and find out, among other things, that their data confirms the hypothesis that “[i]f a new meaning arises over time, it is always in a ‘higher’ sensory modality” (p. 100). For example, the adjective asper ‘sharp, stinging’ receives the meaning ‘sour’.

Steinbach-Eicke takes us even further back in time, into ancient Egypt. In the beginning of her chapter, she considers the way hieroglyphs work, before discussing the sensory modality of taste in texts as old as “the Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom (28th – 23rd century BCE)” (p. 151), and especially the development of the Egyptian perception verb tp ‘to taste’.

As regards the editors’ claim that the volume includes analyses of different genres, we may compare the Egyptian texts with, for example, the “audio and video recordings of informal conversation” in Present-day English that Kendrick uses as his data (p. 255). He focuses on explaining the exclamation “See!” in terms of Conversation Analysis but also discusses reasons why it is based on the sensory modality of sight. San Roque and Schieffelin also analyze spoken data when they investigate what kind of expressions caregivers and little children use. They discuss sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell.

Corpora contain various genres by definition. Trojszczak uses the British National Corpus and the National Corpus of Polish to apply Szwedek’s theory of objectification to metaphors for mind and thought. He covers the source domains of size, shape, containment, and liquidity to discuss the mind. The list of source domains for thought is longer and includes, in addition, density, weight, temperature, and manipulativity. Proos on the other hand, resorts to the Balanced Corpus of Estonian to understand various senses of the verb nägema ‘to see’. However, she also uses a sorting task to create a dendrogram illustrating the senses of the verb. She realizes that the two methods give her different results. Caballero bases her description of wine metaphors on a corpus of wine tasting notes and concludes that they can be understood as “result[ing] from a process of synaesthetic metonymisation” (p. 139). In other words, a soft taste feels like soft things but its conceptualization does not necessitate mental recourse to any particular object.

Ryzhova, Rakhilina and Kholkina combine corpus data with data collected from dictionaries and with the help of questionnaires. They consider three types of situations where something is described as heavy. In the first situation, a person lifts an object; in the second, a person
“displaces a part of an object in relation to its other parts”, for example, pedals; and in the third type, a “person estimates the weight of an object” (p. 190). According to them, languages can employ different strategies to lexically mark these situations, in other words, to distinguish or not to distinguish between them.

Lastly, Takashima has collected data from dictionaries and interviewed two signers. His chapter on Japanese sign language has three parts that focus on “vision verbs and signs articulated around the eyes”; on “audition and signs around the ears”; and on “smelling and signs on the nose showing negative evaluation”. Every time, she begins from basic signs, and then moves on to more specific issues. Her chapter contains, for example, a figure comparing “[m]eaning extensions of the vision verb miru ‘see’ in spoken Japanese” and “[m]eanings of signs articulated around the eyes in JSL” (p. 315). It shows both similarities and differences between spoken Japanese and Japanese sign language.


It can be said that the editors of the book Perception Metaphors have succeeded in including various languages, time periods and genres in it. At the same time, many of the chapters deal with English, and most of them deal with contemporary languages. However, there is plenty of diversity in terms of methods and approaches. In addition, it should be said that a number of the chapters reach towards a general understanding of the language of perception. Some of those chapters focus on theory-formation rather than issues of empirical research, and others combine the two.

The theoretical understanding that can be gained by reading this book includes matters relating to directionality, as suggested by the introductory chapter. Several of the authors are interested in how sensory modalities act as source domains for each other or for further concepts. However, many other theoretical issues also receive their share of attention.

For example, readers of this volume learn not only about written and spoken but also sign languages. Furthermore, they learn some things about scripts that differ from the type in which the book is set and which may include pictorial elements. With pictorial elements I refer to hieroglyphic writing as discussed by Steinbach-Eicke. The next step from here would obviously be to address pictorial and multimodal metaphors, following Forceville (2016). It would be especially intriguing to read if elements comparable to such signs of anger in comics as arm/hand position and spirals also occur in writing systems when it comes to perception metaphors (Forceville 2003).

To give another example, although the authors do not always use the term metonymy, many issues that they discuss are relevant to it. Both Strik Lievers and De Felice’s diachronic perspective on the Italian sensory lexicon and Proos’s chapter on polysemy touch upon issues which cognitive linguists have discussed in terms of metonymy. A potential next step would be to study the role of cultural changes in changing the meaning of polysemous sensory words, as suggested, for example, by Zhang, Geeraerts and Speelman’s (2015) findings concerning Chinese words for ‘woman’. These two chapters in the book could also be considered in the light of research on radial networks beginning from Brugman and Lakoff’s work (2006 [1988]).

In this book, metonymy goes together with synaesthesia. Winter and Caballero combine them to explain perception metaphors. This potentially represents a budding new consensus among cognitive linguists about the nature of synaesthesia. It nevertheless needs to be taken into account that the view that these two authors represent is not entirely new. To illustrate, Winter refers to Rakova’s (2003) explanation of why food can be hot. His arguments very much resemble those of hers. She talks about physiology and the nervous system to explain how our bodies contribute to our understanding of what is hot (Rakova 2003: 34-47).

As I have studied English historical linguistics myself and used the Historical Thesaurus of English, I was happy to see Anderson’s chapter in this book. I appreciate her idea that the thesaurus gives us a bird’s-eye view of the English vocabulary and of perception metaphors in English. In my view, the most valuable information in this chapter is that perception categories appear more often as sources than targets of metaphors, as expected. However, it would have been good to read even more about the lexicon of perception in the thesaurus and about how the Mapping Metaphor project members divided metaphorical connections as strong or weak. I would thus have liked to know more about this interesting topic.

The same applies to some other chapters in the volume — I would have liked to know more —, but I would not say exactly the same about the book on the whole. It kept me mesmerized at airports and on planes, so the topic was certainly interesting. I would also like to read more about perception metaphors. Albeit some chapters were easier and some more cumbersome to read, the book is rather balanced, so that I did not miss anything that was not there. It represents various approaches and views and probably does not tell us everything there is to know about perception metaphors, but reading it resulted in satisfaction. It would certainly be different to read a monograph about perception metaphors to gain an overview, but in this way, I could as if enjoy one delicious snack at a time rather than experience the contour of a dinner.

Since perception metaphors are a hot topic, we nevertheless need to be aware of the fact that the book under review does not present us with all the authors currently working on it, or with all their topics. Amitash Ojha and Bipin Indurkhya have also recently published an article “[o]n the role of perceptual features in metaphor comprehension” (2016) and another article together with Minho Lee where they ask if language is necessary to interpret visual metaphors (2017). Admittedly, the focus of this work shifts slightly from perception metaphors to metaphor and perception, but it is all quite relevant to our understanding of how these two intertwine. Thus a divide between the two topics is rather artificial. Irene Ronga’s recent article on taste synaesthesias (2016) comes even closer to the topics discussed in the book Perception Metaphors because it is a further take on synaesthesia. She does not emphasize the role of metonymy in synaesthesia, but like Winter and Caballero and even Rakova (2003), she pays attention to the experiential grounding of synaesthetic metaphors. To put it differently, she also claims that they are more than mappings across domains — that they make deeper sense.

If anything, we can at least be quite sure that Perception Metaphors is a timely publication. It deals with something that interests many linguists right now. If you are not yet familiar with this topic, this edited volume is a good place to start.


Brugman, Claudia & George Lakoff. 2006 (1988). Radial network: Cognitive topology and lexical networks. In: Dirk Geeraerts (ed.), Cognitive Linguistics: Basic Readings. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 109-139.

Classen, Constance. 1993. Worlds of Sense: Exploring the Senses in History and Across Cultures. London: Routledge.

Forceville, Charles. 2003. Visual representations of the idealized cognitive model of anger in the Asterix album La Zizanie. Journal of Pragmatics 37, 69-88.

Forceville, Charles. 2016. Pictorial and multimodal metaphor. In: Nina-Maria Klug & Hartmut Stöckl (eds.), Handbuch Sprache im multimodalen Kontext [The Handbook of Language in Multimodal Contexts]. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 241-260.

Kövecses, Zoltán. 2002. Metaphor: A Practical Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ojha, Amitash & Bipin Indurkhya. 2016. On the role of perceptual features in metaphor comprehension. In: Elisabetta Gola & Francesca Ervas (eds.), Metaphor and Communication. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 147-169.

Ojha, Amitash, Bipin Indurkhya & Minho Lee. 2017. Is language necessary to interpret visual metaphors? In: Francesca Ervas, Elisabetta Gola & Maria Grazia Rossi (eds.), Metaphor in Communication, Science and Education. Berlin: Mouton De Gruyter. 61-76.

Rakova, Marina. 2003. The Extent of the Literal: Metaphor, Polysemy and Theories of Concepts. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Ronga, Irene. 2016. Taste synaesthesias: Linguistic features and neurophysiological bases. In: Elisabetta Gola & Francesca Ervas (eds.), Metaphor and Communication. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 47-60.

Zhang, Weiwei, Dirk Geeraerts & Dirk Speelman. 2015. Visualizing onomasiological change: Diachronic variation in metonymic patterns for woman in Chinese. Cognitive Linguistics 26(2), 289-330.


Dr. Heli Tissari currently works as a lecturer of English linguistics at Stockholm University. She has recently taught courses dealing with metaphors of emotion and metaphor and communication. She has been interested in metaphors since writing her PhD where she discussed conceptual metaphors of love in Early Modern and Present-day English. Her newest publication on metaphors is the chapter “Corpus-linguistic approaches to metaphor analysis” in The Routledge Handbook of Metaphor and Language, edited by Elena Semino and Zsófia Demjen in 2017.

Page Updated: 07-Nov-2019