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Review of  Metaphor, Metonymy, and Experientialist Philosophy

Reviewer: Ioana-Rucsandra Dascalu
Book Title: Metaphor, Metonymy, and Experientialist Philosophy
Book Author: Verena Haser
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Philosophy of Language
Cognitive Science
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 16.1810

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Date: Tue, 7 Jun 2005 23:52:47 -0400 (EDT)
From: Ioana-Ruxandra Dascalu
Subject: Metaphor, Metonymy and Experientialist Philosophy

AUTHOR: Haser, Verena
TITLE: Metaphor, Metonymy and Experientialist Philosophy
SUBTITLE: Challenging Cognitive Semantics
SERIES: Topics in English Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2005

Ioana-Ruxandra Dascalu, Chair of General Linguistics, University of Craiova


Metaphor has been a widely studied subject ever since the ancient treatises
on rhetoric and style. There it has been described from three perspectives:
metaphor as an ontological, linguistic or literary entity. Aristotle
launched its classical definition as an abridged comparison, which supposes
the resemblance and contiguity of two conceptual domains. From an
ontological perspective, the transfer has been interpreted differently,
either as "seeing in terms of something" or as "decomposing a given sense
in order to create a new one" or as "a lexical device, whereby a gap in the
lexicon is replaced by a metaphor, conceived as an association of ideas";
the purpose of metaphors is to depict the referent and to represent it
concretely as a mental image. Recent points of view are focused upon the
mechanism of understanding and processing mental images inspired by human
concrete experience into common everyday language, creating the so-called
lexical metaphors. "Metaphors as linguistic expressions are possible
because they are metaphors in a person's conceptual system". (Lakoff &
Johnson 1980)

The book under review is a contribution within the cognitive framework of
theoreticians such as G. Lakoff, M. Johnson, R. Langacker, L. Talmy,
representatives of the cognitive-experientialist movement. Accordingly,
language is defined in terms of its connections to thought, imagination and
bodily functions. One of the main points (to be recognized in the title
also) is the subtle and controversial differences between metaphors and
metonymies. Metonymies are one domain of relations with several conceptual
transfers: "Teil für das Ganze, Ganzes für Teil, Gefass für Inhalt, Inhalt
für Gefass, Mittel für Handlung, Material für den Gegenstand" (p. 17 apud
Leisi 1985: 190-191) and so on, being conceived as "a cognitive process in
which one conceptual entity, (the vehicle), provides mental access to
another conceptual entity, (the target), within the same idealized
cognitive model". (Radden & Kovecses 1999:21) Essentially metaphor supposes
an implicit comparison, being an important event in human cognition and in
the representation of the world. The philosophical tradition displays
several trends in the perception of reality, which also account for the
metaphorical transfer; two main directions must be emphasized:
phenomenalism, which explains the existence of physical things as a mere
product of sensations and objectivism, according to which the world exists
independently of the human thoughts and perceptions, defining metaphor as a
matter of language rather than as a matter of thought.

Goodman (1978) defines metaphor not merely as a matter of language, but as
a way of worldmaking thus anticipating Lakoff & Johnson's theory which
claims that metaphors are ways of organizing and conceptualizing
experience. Lakoff & Johnson's theory of metaphor represents it as a matter
of cognition, associated to the construction of ideas as images with a
major role in categorization: "it is a matter of thought and action and
only derivatively a matter of language" (Lakoff & Johnson 1980), being
depicted as a tool for creating reality with an important experiential and
bodily basis. Lakoff and Johnson's book classifies metaphors into three
categories: orientational, ontological and structural. They also account
for the manner of expressing and comprehending realities which need proper
verbal description, usually in terms of other areas of experience.

The thesis Lakoff & Johnson propose is a demonstration of the role
metaphors hold in everyday language: from a central nucleus, according to
the family resemblances, metaphorical expressions are understood as a
translation similar to comparison: "a means of understanding one thing in
terms of another". Much attention is paid to the definitions of metaphor as
opposed to metonymy: whereas the former is understood as a process creating
"ad hoc" categories, the latter is a construction built on pre-given
relations. The metaphorical process is explained as similar expressions
created by family resemblances. Lakoff & Johnson consider Aristotle to be
the parent of the first theories of metaphor as formulas used in current
conversation (Rhet. 1404b), with the difference that they are not a part of
everyday language, but a stylistic device. Frequently the two readings of
an expression are connected to each other by a common nucleus of sense; in
the distinction between dead and conventional metaphors, conventional
metaphors also admit of a literal reading (Traugott 1985). Nevertheless,
they are so similar in meaning and devices that they can hardly be
separated from each other.

The first chapters of the book under review deal with such explanations as
the meaning within the human conceptual domains and the understanding of
some concepts in terms of the others. In the next chapters, it is the
problem of truth and reality and its relation to language which takes the
stand: several theories about veridicality encounter the multiplicity of
"truths" vs. the "absolute objective truth", the connection between
language and thought vs. the existence of the world independently of the
human perceptions according to the Platonic tradition in which ideas are
images and essences common to all things; metaphors figure as indispensable
tools of human cognition generating idealized cognitive models of mind
built according to family resemblances: with disembodied internal
idea-object that can somehow correspond to states of affairs in the
external worlds (Lakoff & Johnson 1980).

For instance, space is conceived as a basic entity, whereby other concepts
such as temporal or notional ones are understood and expressed in terms of
it. Going further than Lakoff & Johnson, Grady (1997) and Ch. Johnson
(1999) introduce the concepts of "primary metaphors" as motivations for
cognitively more complex metaphors: "how we comprehend and understand areas
of experience that are not well-defined in their own terms and must be
grasped in terms of other areas of experience". (Lakoff & Johnson
1980).Another important issue in the cognitive analyses of metaphor is its
psychological underlying ground and the role thought has in creating
meaning; the logical evolution from individual thinking to verbal
expression originate from the preconceptual bodily experience gained in the
external world, transformed into thought and meaningful language; the
mechanisms of a metaphorical process depend upon the experiential basis;
therefore, thought is defined as language metaphor and to analyze language
means to analyze thought: "The structure of language uses the same device
used to structure cognitive models ... language is made meaningful because
it is directly tied to meaningful thought and depends upon the nature of
thought. Thought is made meaningful in two direct connections to
preconceptual bodily functioning, which is in turn highly constrained but
by no means totally constrained, by the nature of the world that we
function within" (Lakoff 1987).


Verena Haser's book represents a detailed account of the contemporary
trends in cognitive linguistics concerning metaphor and metonymy; following
the classical theories of Lakoff and Johnson (1980), however with a
critical deconstructivist attitude towards them, the author analyzes the
essential matters which are involved in this conceptual transfer. More than
a work of linguistics, it is a work of psychology dealing with mental
processes of categorization and the relationship between thought and
language, between the referential world and its verbal expression. Lakoff &
Johnson's point of view (considering the experientialist account of
objectivity a major contribution to contemporary philosophy) is criticized
as contradictory and inconsistent: "One example has brought home my point
most forcefully: 10 philosophers and one philosophical movement (the Vienna
Circle) are cited as endorsing, among other things, the objectivist
correspondence theory of truth. Lakoff & Johnson's attribution is false or
highly misleading for at least seven of these philosophers: furthermore, it
does not apply to Vienna Circle tout court. Lakoff & Johnson themselves
implicitly contradict two of these attributions in a different chapter" (p.
122). Her book is a very useful presentation of modern authors, from
Wittgenstein's "Tractatus logico-philosophicus" to contemporary texts, with
a special focus on Lakoff & Johnson's contributions.


Aristotle 1984. The Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Oxford
Translation, Jonathan Barnes (ed.). Princeton: Princeton University Press

Grady, Joseph 1997. Foundations of Meaning: Primary Metaphors and Primary
Scenes. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of California Berkeley

Goodman, Nelson 1978. Ways of Worldmaking. Indianapolis: Hackett

Johnson, Christopher 1999. Metaphor vs Conflation in the acquisition of
polysemy: The case of "see". In: Masako K. Hiraga, Christopher Sinha, Shem
Wilcox (eds.), Cultural, Psychological and Typological Issues in Cognitive
Linguistics: Selected Papers of the Bi-annual ICLA Meeting in Albuquerque,
July 1995, 155-169, Amsterdam: Benjamins

Johnson, Mark (ed.) 1981. Philosophical Perspectives on Metaphor.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

Lakoff, George 1987. Women, Fire and Dangerous Things: What Categories
Reveal about the Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson 1980. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press

Leisi, Ernst 1985. Praxis der englischen Semantik. 2nd edition. Heidelberg:

Radden, Gunther and Zoltan Kovecses 1999. Towards a theory of metonymy. In:
Klaus-Uwe Panther and Gunther Radden (eds.), Metonymy in Language and
Thought. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: Benjamins.

Traugott, Elizabeth Closs 1985. "Conventional" and "dead" metaphors
revisited. In: Wolf Paprotté & René Dirven (eds), The Ubiquity of Metaphor.
Amsterdam and Philadelphia: Benjamins.


Ioana-Ruxandra Dascalu studied Classical Philology and Literary Theory at
the University of Bucharest. Her main research interests go to Latin
Linguistics (including theories of Functional Grammar), historical
linguistics (especially the evolution from Latin to Romance languages),
general linguistics, French linguistics (modalities, semantics and
pragmatics), Literary Theory, Intertextuality in ancient and modern canon.