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Review of  Creating Worldviews

Reviewer: Heather Walker Peterson
Book Title: Creating Worldviews
Book Author: James W. Underhill
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Linguistic Theories
Philosophy of Language
Subject Language(s): Czech
Issue Number: 23.1171

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AUTHOR: James W. Underhill
TITLE: Creating Worldviews
SUBTITLE: Metaphor, Ideology and Language
PUBLISHER: Edinburgh University Press
YEAR: 2011

Heather Walker Peterson, Department of English and Literature, Northwestern
College, 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 and
critique of metaphor theory, and part two consists of three case studies that
tie together discourse analysis and metaphor theory. The book includes a 44-page
glossary (providing explanations with examples of his and other scholars’ key
terms), 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, heavily
influenced by Humboldt, that worldview regarding language and individuals is
best 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 and
write about their thoughts and emotions (pp. 7 & 203). “Cultural mindset” is a
worldview of a political or religious institutions, “personal world” is that of
an individual, and “perspective” emphasizes the constant shifting of an
individual’s world conceiving and perceiving. Underhill affirms Humboldt’s
pursuit of conceptual connections within language: “the paths offered up by the
language system to its language community” (p. 11). As an example of these
“networks,” he mentions the word “freedom,” which brings up different images and
historical notions in the U.S. versus in the former Czechoslovakia (p. 10).
Getting into these networks is how we begin to comprehend other worldviews, a
point of view that privileges translators and philologists over formal linguists
comparing structures.

Chapter 2, “A Concern for Metaphor,” and chapter 3, “Metaphors We Live By,” are
two brief chapters focused on reviewing Lakoff and Johnson’s (1999) work.
Although Underhill commends Lakoff and Johnson for their contribution of thought
as “embodied,” he points out that two neglected non-English theorists, the
German philosopher Cassirer (1968, 1953) and French rhetorical analyst Matoré
(1962) made similar arguments earlier. Underhill also appreciates that Lakoff
and Johnson’s theories posit that language “organises” reality for us, that
imagination is primary to thought, and that all language is “metaphoric,”
although he sees loss in their blurring of rhetorical categories of figurative
language (pp. 22-24). In Chapter 3, he summarizes seven points of Lakoff and
Johnson’s work: metaphors “live,” “form systemic constructs,” “highlight and
hide,” “often contradict one another,” “are grounded in experience,” “create
similarity,” 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 cognitive
linguistics exclusively. Philosophers, linguists, literary critics, and
rhetorical scholars have all pondered metaphor and often with more narrow
definitions than those used by cognitive linguists, particularly in the
discipline of rhetoric. His list of philosophers theorizing metaphor runs from
Aristotle and Plato to Wittgenstein and Derrida. Ricœur (1975) insisted upon the
examination of metaphor within discourse, casting disregard on the assumption
that one feature is simplistically transferred from a source to a target. The
linguist Brook-Rose (1958) gave examples that showed that metaphorical language
is often not as nominal as is frequently assumed. Often, it is adjectival, such
as “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 and
Lakoff (1989) explained that literary metaphors, in Underhill’s words, “force us
to 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,” Underhill
covers works of other cognitive metaphor theorists. He appreciates that Eubanks’
method has been to study actual speech, showing that “not only do metaphors
shape thought, thought in discourse carves anew the contours of our metaphors”
(p. 45). It is not that we are immersed only unconsciously in conceptual
metaphors, but as Eubanks (2000) showed in his Trade-Is-War examples, we
consciously, in Underhill’s words, “invoke” and “harness” metaphors in what
Eubanks calls a “discursive strategy.” In this chapter, Underhill also reviews
Goatly’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 for
an explanation of “blending” of target and source domains, but critiques them
and other cognitive linguists for seeking a universalistic approach in metaphor
studies rather than “partial equivalence” (p. 62). Underhill fears that in
seeking to show that some conceptual metaphors are common in all languages,
cognitive linguists may be unwittingly forcing other languages into an English

To illustrate partial equivalence, in chapter 6, “Diversity on the Periphery,”
Underhill’s final chapter in part 1 of the book, he reviews studies comparing
metaphor across languages. Key to the rest of the book is the work of Dirven
(1985) on lexical extension by metaphor. Underhill explains that one of
Dirven’s “motors” for lexical extension was “synaesthesia,” in which one sense
activated another sense, as in the phrase “warm colors,” which Dirven recognized
as associated with fire (Dirven 1985, p. 99, in Underhill 2011, p. 65). Dirven
showed that metaphors could shape the lexicon through morphology. He provided
examples of the diminutive suffix used in phrases about the heart: “hartje,” as
indicating 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 of
metaphors, first in the language of Czechoslovakian communists, then the
language of Nazism, and finally language praising one’s own language -- examples
from French and English -- and language calling for maintenance of language
diversity. In each of these chapters, he presents primarily the works of
native-speaker scholars. In Chapter 7, “The Language of Czechoslovak Communist
Power,” he describes essayist Petr Fidelius’s study of the Party newspaper Rudé
Právo, 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 bringing
about 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 but
was responsible for “activating” them as if they were without life or were
asleep before -- a metaphorical twist of objectification that Underhill names
“personified reification” (pp.105-106). The “State” was called an organ, but it
was 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 Party
remaining a movement when its destination of a socialist nation appears to have
been reached. Underhill presents a list of political terms, meant to challenge
English-speaking readers to recognize that supposedly equivalent terms in Czech
could mean something somewhat different because of the differing conceptual
linguistic framework, e.g., “politics” defined as “social activity to defend
class interests” (p.119). He concludes the chapter by explaining that one cannot
understand one of the four concepts without understanding the others. This
“cultural mindset,” he reminds us, harnessed concepts already within the Czech
language 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 seen
as similar to the Czech communist language with its goal of “reason” and
“enlightening.” He hails the German-Jewish philologist Klemperer (2006) as a
hero who secretly documented his observations of the language of the Third
Reich, “Hitlerdeutsch.” Nazism reduced the concept of people to mere sentiment,
personified “race,” and relied on clichés to act as common sense. Underhill
argues that by promoting “purity,” it could demonize Jews as the opposite with a
binary definition, essentializing and excluding them. Confusion was a strategy
of Nazi rhetoric so that reason would be withheld -- thus, anything that
challenged Nazism, even socialism, was blamed on the Jews. Underhill illustrates
this by comparing Goebbels’ propaganda with his private diary, showing that his
embrace of only sentiment and his dismissal of reason produced a rhetoric of
racism. Underhill concludes the chapter delineating an ideology’s transformation
of language, its re-networking of concepts : “the ideology adapts to the
language, and the language…in turn adapts to the ideology” (p.168).

In Underhill’s final case study, “Language in Metaphors,” in chapter 9, he
begins by reviewing historical commentary praising the aesthetics of French with
much reference to a sardonic work of Henri Meschonnic (1997) on this topic. The
majority of the chapter, however, is a critique of the ecological metaphor of
languages used by both Académie française member Hagège (2000) and British
linguist Crystal (2000) in their arguments for language diversity. Underhill
claims that without entering the study of language as philologists, without
really seeing the networking of meaning, such talk makes Hagège and Crystal into
“museum curators” (p. 227). Both Hagège and Crystal want it both ways, Underhill
argues: diversity and yet a privileged language, French (Hagège) or English
(Crystal). Crystal’s insistence that outsiders must save languages whether the
speakers are interested in doing so or not -- to be “stewards” of the garden of
languages -- has the metaphorical underpinnings of Protestantism, coming in to
save 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 to
imagination. Underhill applies “Sprachsinn” synonymously with a “sense of
language,” describing it as what “stimulates a language’s capacity to welcome us
into its world, enabling us to express that world and thereby act within it and
upon it” (perhaps defined as the creative potential of language to perceive and
conceive worldviews) (p. 235). Not realizing this connection reveals linguists’
disinterest in “perception” and a focus on “conception,” the tendency of most
worldview discussions. It is only individual speakers who can save their own
language: only they know how the world is enlivened through their spoken

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


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

His challenge to linguists that translators and philologists have the upper hand
in understanding the relationship of worldviews to metaphors is robust (and
therefore worth reading) but occasionally tiresome. Even the structure of the
book seems a subtle affront to linguists. There is the apparent disjunction of
two chapters critiquing regimes’ discourses followed by one critiquing discourse
about language by Western European scholars. Underhill is intent on showing that
it takes someone remarkable, such as Fidelius and Klemperer, to resist and “to
make a difference” (p. 238) within dominant discourses, even those which are not
political. It cannot be accidental that he juxtaposes the work of Meschonnic
(likely somewhat of a tribute to a late friend), a brilliant translator who
sarcastically 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 he
refers to him again in his second to last paragraph of the book before ending on

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

Besides cognitive linguists, this book will also be invaluable for critical
discourse analysts wishing to incorporate the study of metaphor into their work
and for ethnographers who examine the history of the community of their
research, as well as for scholars of rhetoric and of worldview. Readers might,
as I did, have to review frequently Underhill’s various subcategories of
worldview in the glossary (a definite plus, given the brevity of the index). It
may be that I am biased toward “world-conceiving” as he suggests, since I often
had 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 left
wondering if it is not described just as idealistically and romantically as
Hagège’s and Crystal’s promotions of an ecological metaphor of language.


Brook-Rose, Christine. 1965 (1958). A grammar of metaphor. London: D. R. Hilman
and 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. New
York: Dover.

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

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

Eubanks, Phillips. 2000. A war of words in the discourse of trade: The
rhetorical construction of metaphor. Carbondale and Edwardsville, IL: Southern
Illinois University Press.

Fauconnier, Gilles & Mark Turner. 2003 (2002). The way we think: Conceptual
blending 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. Amsterdam
and 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 Lingua
Tertii 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 to
poetic 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: Edinburgh
University 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.

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