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Review of  Data Structure in Cognitive Metaphor Research

Reviewer: Nina Julich-Warpakowski
Book Title: Data Structure in Cognitive Metaphor Research
Book Author: Péter Csatár
Publisher: Peter Lang AG
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Linguistic Theories
Text/Corpus Linguistics
Cognitive Science
Issue Number: 26.2512

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Review's Editors: Malgorzata Cavar and Ashley Parker


This publication focuses on methodological issues in Conceptual Metaphor Theory. It is a collection of four articles published between 2005 and 2014, three of which first appeared in “Sprachentheorie und germanistische Linguistik.” Throughout the book, Péter Csatár identifies three main issues in conceptual metaphor research: first, the problem of metaphor identification, second, the reliability of the methods applied, and third, the combinability of data gathered by different methods.

In the first chapter, Csatár addresses the question of how relevant data, i.e. metaphorically used language, can be gathered. In CMT, metaphor is seen as a cognitive mechanism instead of a purely linguistic device. Therefore, formal aspects seem to play a fairly insignificant role in the identification of metaphors. Furthermore, metaphor is claimed to be pervasive in language and its application is automatic and unconscious. Hence, to a great extent, metaphorical expressions go unnoticed. Resulting from that, Csatár identifies two major problems in CMT. The first problem is the theory-ladeness of the researcher, i.e. findings are predetermined by the analyst‘s theory of metaphor and his or her research questions. Second, data is usually gathered to support pre-existing claims instead of being analyzed in terms of a pre-theoretic status. Despite these issues, Csatár observes that so-far metaphor identification has not been considered as problematic and metaphors have largely been identified based on intuition.

In the next chapter, “Data collection in metaphor research: old problems and new approaches,” Csatár discusses the application of the introspective-intuitive method in CMT research. He identifies the method as unreliable because it allows for a high degree of variation between scholars. Furthermore, it is subjective and cannot be operationalized. Due to these problems, Csatár judges the introspective-intuitive method to be too restricted (p. 42). As a possible solution, Csatár reviews more recent approaches to metaphor analysis. He discusses Steen’s five-step model (1999), which introduces a procedure to reconstruct a conceptual mapping from a metaphorical surface expression. Csatár concludes that, on the one hand, Steen’s method is more transparent and more objective than the introspective-intuitive method. On the other hand, however, it does not offer a felicitous solution to the problem of reliability. According to Csatár, Steen’s analysis still involves a degree of subjective judgement because it does not make clear how metaphors are identified on the linguistic level in the first place. Also, Steen’s analysis is very time-consuming and hence not applicable to the analysis of large amounts of text.

Csartár goes on to review recent corpus-based approaches to CMT. He concludes that these approaches cannot fully rule out intuition either, and face problems of reliability as well because, again, metaphor identification is not made transparent and still driven by the analyst‘s theoretical assumptions. Csartár notes, however, that intuition can never be fully eliminated in CMT. Instead the “inevitable subjective elements” (p. 64) in metaphor research should be acknowledged and explicitly dealt with. Another problem that Csatár mentions is that corpus-based approaches do not explicitly state how metaphor is to be delineated from other phenomena like metonymy. Csartár emphasizes, however, that especially automated corpus-based analyses exemplified by Stefanowitsch (2006 a, b) and studies by Deignan (1999) offer a high degree of representativeness and reduce the possibility of looking at phenomena that are peripheral to every-day speech.

One of Csatár’s main criticism regarding methodology in CMT is its preference for linguistic data. According to him, analyzing linguistic data can only be counted as an indirect method in CMT research and needs to be complemented by other, especially psycholinguistic data sources in order to do justice to Cognitive Linguistics’ ‘cognitive commitment’. Thus, it is the aim of the third chapter to introduce three principles for integrating psycholinguistic experiments in metaphor research. Here, Csatár calls for a more explicit definition of the term cognitive commitment because it does neither specify which kinds of data can be used to lead to converging evidence nor how different kinds of data can be combined and incorporated to further develop one and the same theory. Csatár claims that the majority of experimental results are interpreted too narrowly in that they are exclusively used to support and illustrate theoretical assumptions based on linguistic data. Reviewing four experiments (Boroditsky 2000, Núñez and Sweetser 2006, Casasanto 2009, Gibbs et al. 2004), Csatár concludes that principles are needed to guide the felicitous integration of experimental results in CMT research. First, the principle of reproducibility is introduced, stating that the results of an experiment can only be considered relevant when they have been felicitously reproduced using different linguistic data and procedures. The next principle is the principle of alignment, stating that both experimental and linguistic data are of the same status and both have to be re-analyzed if they should produce contradictory results. Finally, the principle of considering alternatives is introduced, stating that experimental results should always be evaluated in the light of several competing theories in metaphor research (for example the class-inclusion theory or Gentner‘s structure-mapping theory) in order to be relevant.

The last chapter, “Hybrid theories in contemporary cognitive metaphor research,” presents an evaluation of Tendahl’s hybrid theory bringing together ideas from CMT and Relevance Theory (henceforth RT) (Tendahl 2009). Csatár begins by reviewing CMT and lists the basic assumptions that metaphor is pervasive in language, that metaphor is a cognitive mechanism, and that metaphor is a natural kind. In the following, he gives a very detailed account of RT making direct reference to these three basic assumptions: In RT, metaphor is not seen as prominent in language, the way metaphor is processed is not different from how literal language is processed in general, and metaphor is not a natural kind, showing that RT opposes all three basic CMT assumptions. Finally, he presents Tendahl’s combination of CMT and RT. With reference to the three assumptions above, Csatár concludes that within Tendahl’s theory (1) metaphor is seen as a basic feature of language, however (2) on-line metaphorical processing of meaning is probably limited to novel cases of metaphor, and (3) only some metaphors represent specific knowledge structures in terms of a natural kind.


This compilation of articles highlights important methodological issues that CMT yet has to solve. It is especially the set of principles which Csatár offers for the integration of both linguistic and psycholinguistic data that render this contribution valuable to the methodological debate in CMT. To my knowledge, it has rarely been specified how the ‘cognitive commitment’ in Cognitive Linguistics is to be implemented in practice in order to nurture CMT. For this reason, Csatár’s book is aimed at CMT scholars encouraging them to make their analyses more transparent and to critically reconsider their own theoretical preassumptions. Furthermore, though recent studies have tried to render metaphor identification and the reconstruction of conceptual mapping more objective (Pragglejaz Group 2007, Steen et al. 2010), Csatár acknowledges (however only in passing) the subjective nature inherent to the analysis of metaphor. In a similar vein, Schmitt (2011) claims that the reconstruction of metaphorical mappings is always a hermeneutical process. Schmitt has developed a method for qualitative metaphor analysis (for application in the social sciences) which does not strive to be fully operationalized but it rather presents a guideline spelling out analytical steps and possible caveats that have to be taken into consideration. Another problem put forward by Csatár is the problem of delineating metaphor from other phenomena like metonymy. Several scholars have called attention to that matter but it largely remains a point of debate (cf. Dirven and Pörings 2003, Barcelona 2003, Barnden 2010). Unfortunately, Csatár does neither elaborate on this issue nor does he offer any possible solutions. All in all, Csatár systematically identifies major issues of CMT, however, he does not always offer feasible solutions.

With its 150 pages, the book represents a concise overview of methodological issues in CMT. However, in some parts of this volume, it is not clear whether ‘metaphor identification’ refers to the identification of the linguistic item or the reconstruction of the conceptual mapping. So, the linguistic and conceptual plane seem to be conflated. Moreover, some of the examples used to illustrate different cases of metaphor lack embeddedness and are thus hard to follow. Given that the articles were published in journals before — the first one almost ten years ago — the book also does not always represent state of the art although more recent approaches are briefly mentioned in the introduction of the volume. Until now there have been approaches calling for a more reliable and transparent identification procedure of metaphors, both in terms of their linguistic surface expressions and the mappings behind them (MIPVU, i.e. Metaphor Identification Procedure Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, cf. Steen et al. 2010, Schmitt 2011). When it comes to metaphor identification on the language level, MIPVU presents a reliable tool rendering decisions in the interpretation process more explicit and reproducable. When it comes to the identification of metaphor on the conceptual level, however, CMT still lacks an explicit methodological apparatus. Schmitt 2011, being in line with Csatár’s suggestions here, urges researchers to acknowledge the subjective nature of that analysis. Consequently, he highlights the importance of making decisions within the interpretation process as transparent as possible.

Despite some of its shortcomings, the book is a valuable resource for metaphor scholars especially for those conducting empirical research as it calls for a more explicit consideration of how to identify, interpret and integrate data structure in cognitive metaphor research.


Barcelona, A. (Ed.). 2003. Metaphor and Metonymy at the Crossroads: A Cognitive Perspective.
Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Barnden, J. A. 2010. Metaphor and metonymy: Making their connections more slippery. Cognitive
Linguistics 21(1), 1-34.

Boroditsky, L. 2000. Metaphoric structuring: Understanding time through spatial metaphors.
Cognition, 75(1), 1–28.

Casasanto, D. 2009. When is a linguistic metaphor a conceptual metaphor? In V. Evans and S.
Pourcel (Eds.), New Directions in Cognitive Linguistics (pp. 127–145). Amsterdam/Philadelphia:

Dirven, R. and Pörings, R. (Eds.). 2003. Metaphor and Metonymy in Comparison and Contrast.
Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Gibbs, R. W., Costa Lima, P. L., and Francozo, E. 2004. Metaphor is grounded in embodied
experience. Journal of Pragmatics, 36(7), 1189–1210.

Núñez, R.E. and Sweetser, E. 2006. Looking ahead to the past: Convergent evidence from Aymara
language and gesture in the crosslinguistic comparison of spatial construals of time. Cognitive
Science, 30(3), 401-450.

Pragglejaz Group. 2007. MIP: A method for identifying metaphorically used words in discourse.
Metaphor and Symbol, 22(1), 1–39.

Schmitt, R. 2011. Systematische Metaphernanalyse als qualitative sozialwissenschaftliche
Forschungsmethode. 21, 47-82.

Steen, G. J. 1999. From linguistic to conceptual metaphor in five steps. In R. W. Gibbs and G. J.
Steen (Eds.), Metaphor in cognitive linguistics (pp. 57–77). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: Benjamins.

Steen, G. J., Dorst, A. G., Herrmann, J. B., Kaal, A. A., Krennmayr, T., and Pasma, T. 2010. A
method for linguistic metaphor identification: From MIP to MIPVU. Amsterdam/Philadelphia:

Stefanowitsch, A. 2006a. Words and their metaphors: A corpus-based approach. In A.
Stefanowitsch and S. T. Gries (Eds.), Corpus-based Approaches to Metaphor and Metonymy. (pp.
63–105). Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Stefanowitsch, A. and Gries, S. T. (Eds.). 2006b. Corpus-Based Approaches to Metaphor and
Metonymy. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Tendahl, M. 2009. A Hybrid Theory of Metaphor. Relevance Theory and Cognitive Linguistics. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Nina Julich is a PhD student at Leipzig University. Currently she teaches technical English for Engineering at University of Applied Sciences Zwickau. Her interests include conceptual metaphor, especially how it is used in descriptions of music, and the notion of metaphor as a gradable phenomenon.

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