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Review of  Metaphor and Discourse

Reviewer: Nina Julich-Warpakowski
Book Title: Metaphor and Discourse
Book Author: Andreas Musolff Jörg Zinken
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
General Linguistics
Linguistic Theories
Cognitive Science
Issue Number: 27.2968

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Reviews Editor: Robert A. Cote


This 2015 publication “Metaphor and Discourse” edited by Andreas Musolff and Jörg Zinken is a paperback version of a book which was first published in 2009. The book is divided into three parts: Part I Metaphor in Discourse: Theoretical and Methodological Perspectives, Part II Metaphors in Contemporary Public Discourses: Case Studies, and Part III Metaphor Evolution in Discourse History. It begins with an introduction by the editors and concludes with a commentary by Julia Lonergan and Ray Gibbs, one of the leading figures in CMT research. In the following, each of the 16 papers will be briefly summarized and discussed.

In the introductory chapter, “A Discourse-Centered Perspective on Metaphorical Meaning and Understanding” by Jörg Zinken and Andreas Musolff, the editors sketch out how the study of metaphor in discourse as an applied endeavor may still challenge and feed theoretical assumptions in important ways. Thus, the aim of this collection is to bring together empirical analysis and a theoretical perspective by stressing the importance of context (textually, socio-culturally, and historically) in metaphor studies. For example, theories on metaphor like Relevance Theory or CMT often suggest that what is mapped in a metaphor is very general, i.e. we form abstract ad-hoc categories or we map between broad domains. Discourse studies, however, have shown that distinct forms are not irrelevant, and thus cast doubts on the general-mapping hypothesis. For this reason, Zinken and Musolff invite metaphor scholars to “take seriously the usage-based credo that things are what they are because of their use” (4).

Part I. Metaphor in Discourse: Theoretical and Methodological Perspectives

In Chapter 2, “Metaphor, Culture, and Discourse: The Pressure of Coherence”, Zoltán Kövecses focuses on reasons for variation between the use of conventional, automatic and probably universal metaphors on one hand and more varied, individual uses of metaphor in naturally occurring discourse on the other. The use of the former can be explained in terms of the ‘classic’ Conceptual Metaphor Theory, whereas the latter cannot (at least not fully). Therefore, Kövecses proposes the Pressure of Coherence Hypothesis. The principle states that when people use metaphors, their choice of expression is adjusted to and thus influenced by the respective communicative situation, physical environment, and social or cultural context. Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter, for example, uses a football game metaphor to talk about the international politics of football (19).

In Chapter 3, “Three Kinds of Metaphor in Discourse: A Linguistic Taxonomy”, Gerard Steen identifies the following three types of metaphor: regular lexical metaphor (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980, 1999), grammatical metaphor (Halliday 1985, Halliday & Matthiessen 1999), and other forms of metaphor like simile and analogy. To illustrate the notion of grammatical metaphor, consider the following two sentences given by Steen: ‘The fifth day saw them at the summit’ versus ‘They arrived at the summit on the fifth day’. The first is a metaphorical variant of the second because it expresses a (literal) material process in terms of a mental process of perception. The three types of metaphor differ in the following way: Regular lexical metaphors present ‘indirect’ language use. Other forms of metaphor like simile or analogy present ‘direct’ language use via an explicit comparison. Grammatical metaphor, on the other hand, presents an ‘alternative’ expression that is afforded by the language system.

In “Reading Sonnet 30: Discourse, Metaphor and Blending”, Paul Chilton analyses Shakespeare’s Sonnet to show how both linguistic prompts in the text (the microdiscourse) as well as the cultural environment of the discourse (the macrodiscourse) give rise to ‘cognitive effects’, i.e. the emergence of certain meanings or concepts. Chilton shows that the sonnet is structured by two interwoven conceptual metaphors: the possibly entrenched VALUED EXPERIENCES ARE VALUED POSSESSIONS and the less conventional CERTAIN KINDS OF SOLITARY THOUGHT ARE SESSIONS OF A LAW COURT. Chilton highlights, however, that a metaphorical analysis alone cannot account for the complex imagery evoked by the poem. Instead, it is also ambiguous expressions activating two different meanings which both have to be conceptually integrated. In order to reach maximal coherence metaphorical and ambiguous meanings are conceptually integrated via Blending.

Christ’l De Landtsheer’s “Collecting Political Meaning from the Count of Metaphor” is particularly interesting with respect to methodology. The author emphasis the importance and the power of metaphor in political discourse and presents a method to measure this influence quantitatively, which is introduced as “metaphor power analysis” (64). Measuring metaphor power in discourse involves three variables: metaphor frequency, metaphor intensity, and metaphor content. De Landtsheer presents case studies which point out for example that metaphor power in political discourse is higher during times of crises. Furthermore, language used by more extreme parties (left-wing and right-wing) tend to use stronger metaphors than parties in the centre and the news on TV tends to be more metaphorical than written accounts.

John Barnden’s paper “Metaphor and Context: A Perspective from Artificial Intelligence” deals with the degree of parallelism between source and target domains. Whereas psychological models of analogy often try to establish a strong degree of parallelism, Barnden argues that metaphorical utterances often contain source domain elements that do not have a parallel element in the target domain. The matter is illustrated with the following example uttered by an African politician with reference to a Chinese investment for his country: “I don’t think strings are attached. If there are any they’re made of nylon - I can’t see them” (79). According to Barnden, the notion of nylon is crucial to the meaning of the utterance, yet to understand the utterance we do not have to find a corresponding target domain element. From an artificial intelligence perspective, a context-issue-driven strategy is applied which recruits from the metaphorical utterance only as much information as is needed.

Part II. Metaphors in Contemporary Public Discourses: Case Studies

In the second part of the edited volume, Jonathan Charteris-Black discusses the persuasive role of metaphor in political discourse in “Metaphor and Political Communication”. He combines Aristotle’s notions of ethos (establishing the speaker’s ethical appeal), logos (appeal to reason by arguments), and pathos (appeal to the emotion) with that of ‘ideology’ (a set of consciously formed beliefs) and ‘myth’ (an only partially conscious set of beliefs, attitudes and feelings) as introduced by Barthes. Illustrating his argument with examples from Fidel Castro’s and Toni Blair’s rhetoric, Charteris-Black identifies four general functions of metaphor in political discourse: 1) presenting someone or something as ‘having the right intentions’ (ethos), 2) exploiting metaphorical entailments to legitimize conclusions (logos), 3) heightening emotional appeal (pathos), and 4) presenting something as the truth or a set of truths (ideology, myth). Often metaphors fulfill several of these functions simultaneously.

In Chapter 8, “Missions and Empires: Religious and Political Metaphors in Corporate Discourse”, Veronika Koller applies a cognitive critical discourse analysis to mission statements of global companies. Her analysis is based on the assumption that in modern, post-industrial societies, business has risen to the new defining power in terms of providing models, beliefs, values and goals, replacing previous paradigms based on religion and politics. It is the aim of Koller’s paper to show that, nevertheless, in order to legitimize action and engage people emotionally, corporate discourse still metaphorically draws on religion and politics as source domains. Koller applies a quantitative corpus method using an automatic semantic tagging software (USAS) to identify key concepts in corporate discourse and significantly used expressions from the source domains of religion and politics.

“How Business Press Headlines Get Their Message Across: A Different Perspective on Metaphor” by Michael White and Honesto Herrera analyses metaphoric patterns in English and Spanish business newspaper headlines. The particular pattern being investigated is called “literal-figurative interface“ and refers to cases where figurative expressions are motivated by the topic of the article, thus being both metaphorically and literally used, for example: “Manchester United boasts three-pronged attack”. Here, the ‘attack’ is motivated by the topic football and evokes the mental image of an attack by a striker. At the same time, it refers to the three income sources of the football club (match day sales, commercials, and media income streams). This particular pattern contributes to the communicative effect of the headline by grabbing the reader’s attention and despite or rather because of its complexity pleases the reader.

The fourth and last case study of Part II of this edited volume, “MRSA – Portrait of a Superbug: A Media Drama in Three Acts” by Brigitte Nerlich and Nelya Koteyko, investigates how an emergent risk from a bacterium - MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) - was covered in the UK national press. The data for this qualitative metaphor analysis is taken from broadsheet and newspaper articles from three points in time (1995, 2000, and 2005) to diachronically analyse metaphorical construal of antibiotics-resistant bacteria and related cleanliness issues of hospitals. Apart from the shift in rhetorical strategies, the analysis also indicates that metaphorical narratives may have strong performative force inviting particular actions (here: the strive for cleanliness in hospitals despite the lack of scientific evidence regarding its effectiveness).

Part III. Metaphor Evolution in Discourse History

In the opening article to the third part of this edited volume, “Shifting Identities: Metaphors of Discourse Evolution”, Roslyn M. Frank argues in favor of viewing language and language phenomena such as discourse metaphor as Complex Adaptive Systems. Traditionally, discourse metaphors, i.e. salient metaphorical conceptions of key topics in a discourse over a period of time, have been defined as relatively stable patterns (Zinken et al. 2008). In a Complex Adaptive Systems approach to discourse metaphor, however, meanings associated with a given frequent metaphorical expression in a discourse are socio-culturally situated and may co-evolve in conjunction with developments of the culture or environment in which they are embedded (175). Thus, metaphor and analogy are constantly shifting entities that are constructed, deconstructed and reconstructed (183).

David Cowling’s paper “‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be’: Linguistic Mercantilism in Renaissance France” represents a qualitative analysis of writings by French philologist Henri Estienne published in the sixteenth century. Estienne was a representative of linguistic purism polemically defending the French language against borrowings from vernacular Italian. Focusing on metaphors of economic exchange, Cowling demonstrates the persuasive power of metaphor as well as its historical situatedness. To illustrate this, according to Estienne, the French language may declare itself ‘bankrupt’, if it keeps ‘borrowing’ from the Italian language, furthermore the French are described as poor ‘householders’ that rather borrow from their neighbor (Italian) than attempting to look for what they seek at home (the French language).

In Chapter 13, “Interpretations of the Body Politic and of Natural Bodies in late Sixteenth-Century France”, Kathryn Banks investigates how the metaphor of the state as a human body was used in 16th century France and how its application changed in the 17th century. Banks notes that in the16th century, various features of the metaphor were flexibly exploited either for or against the monarchy, which indicated that the body politic metaphor represented a versatile tool for voicing a wide variety of attitudes (209). In the 17th century, however, conceptions of the state as a natural body changed to conceptions of the state as an artificial body, thereby overcoming controversies entailed by the natural body politic metaphor (for example that illness are natural to political systems).

In Chapter 14, “Bodies Politic and Bodies Cosmic: The Roman Stoic Theory of the ‘Two Cities’”, Jeffery Zavadil investigates a shift of body politic metaphors in Roman political thought. Initially, Rome was conceived of as a city state. Thus, many political texts feature the metaphor THE CITY IS A BODY. As the Roman Empire expanded, however, the conception of it as a cosmopolitan entity gradually emerged, giving rise to THE COSMOS / WORLD IS A BODY which in conjunction with the former metaphor gave rise to: THE COSMOS / WORLD IS A CITY. Zavadil cites various examples from Seneca, Cicero, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius and demonstrates how changing (political) environments may give rise to new metaphorical conceptualizations and how these affect how people conceive of themselves and their relation within the world.

The last contribution to Part III “Metaphor in the History of Ideas and Discourse: How Can We Interpret a Medieval Version of the Body-State Analogy” by one of the editors of the volume, Andreas Musolff, presents an analysis of the Policraticus, a treatise written by twelfth-century cleric John of Salisbury. Musolff aims to test a hypothesis put forward by Sontag (1991) which claims that in the historical evolution of the body-state metaphor medieval uses present pre-modern instances of the mapping whereas modern conceptions have been ‘remolded’ and exploited more drastically (236). After sketching a brief history of the body-state metaphor, Musolff shows that John’s use of the metaphor is far from pre-modern and that in fact the metaphor is exploited to serve various functions. He concludes not by rejecting but by relativizing Sontag’s hypothesis and argues against a linear account of metaphor evolution but rather opts for context-sensitive embedded analyses which may inform us about the ‘cognitive potential’ of a metaphor (244).

In the last chapter, “Studying Metaphor in Discourse: Some Lessons, Challenges and New Data”, which presents a commentary on the edited volume, Ray Gibbs and Julia E. Lonergan emphasize that metaphor is always contextualized and thus inseparable from its discourse. This, however, also poses some challenges. First, scholars need to be careful when generalizing from their specific data. Second, explicit criteria for metaphor identification, both linguistically and conceptually, are needed to render analyses more reliable and replicable. There exist some attempts from computational linguistics that might be very promising in this respect, for example MetaBank (Martin 1994) and CorMet (Mason 2004). The remainder of the chapter presents a study (Lonergan in prep.) on mixed metaphor which demonstrates that despite the mixing of metaphors in a short statement participants consistently agreed on what was being communicated.


This edited volume presents state-of-the-art research into the field of metaphor in discourse and conceptual metaphor theory. Despite the fact that the texts were published in 2009, this paperback publication presents issues that are still of current importance. The quality of the volume is characterized by the fact that it brings together leading scholars in the field of CMT. Furthermore, the various perspectives from discourse studies, corpus studies, artificial intelligence as well as politics and literature present and also invite interdisciplinary research. This book is thus aimed at a variety of metaphor scholars offering them plenty of food for applied as well as theoretical thought.

What is striking about the volume is that the collection of articles is a very coherent set, with many of the articles cross-referring to one another. Koller’s paper, for example, can be seen as providing quantitative evidence for rather theoretical assumptions laid out by Charteris-Black, demonstrating that metaphor may be employed to generate myth (that of corporate mission statements as religion) and legitimize logical reasoning (by mapping political notions onto corporate discourse).

The papers are slightly shorter than what is usually found in journals. However, this is not a shortcoming, quite the contrary, for each contribution is focused, well written and clearly structured. Students of metaphor may find the book to be a rich overview of discourse approaches to metaphors and may take this volume as a good starting point for finding a research question. Similarly, metaphor scholars may find “Metaphor and Discourse” to be a rich repository of the workings as well as the various shapes of metaphor in situated communicative contexts.

Referring back to the editors’ introductory remarks of taking the used-based credo seriously, this volumes highlights the importance of the contextualization of metaphor. To use an analogy from Gibbs and Lonergan (this volume): Metaphor cannot felicitously be studied by taking it out of context and looking at it in isolation, “much as dead butterflies are pinned down in glass cases, to understand something about how they work. Just as butterflies are best understood out in the wild, metaphors are best studied and analyzed within their natural contexts […]“ (252). However, the linguistic identification of metaphor as well as its cultural and cognitive foundations present huge methodological issues when it comes to obtaining reliable results. The volume presents an important publication with respect to these methodological issues by first of all putting forward problems that metaphor studies are still facing, and secondly by introducing software (for example Koller and Gibbs & Lonergan) for handling metaphor analysis and inviting more quantitative research into the field. However, many contributions still rely on introspective analyses. Introspective analyses are a valid research methodology, yet, it is difficult to make generalizations based on subjective analyses. If such studies would be complemented by more reliable empirical methods, their explanatory power could be further improved. Several contributions of this edited volume point to that issue, and since the first publication of this book there have been some highly promising developments in that regard (especially MIP, ‘Metaphor Identification Procedure’ (Pragglejaz 2007), and MIPVU, ‘Metaphor Identification Procedure Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam’ (Steen et al. 2010)).


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I am a PhD student at the Institut for British Studies at Leipzig University, Germany. My PhD focuses on conceptual metaphor use in classical music discourse. I am particularly interested in primary metaphors and elaborations of those in discourse.

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