Metonymy and Euphemisms

Topics: Euphemism, Taboo, Cognition Pages: 5 (1706 words) Published: May 14, 2011
In the previous chapter I presented the default cases of metonymy and how cognitive and communicative principles govern the selection of a preferred metonymic vehicle. These principles enable us to understand why we choose certain entities to access a target and why some vehicle-to-target routes have been conventionalized in the language. However, it sometimes occurs that cognitive and communicative principles are overridden because of the speaker’s expressive needs or a particular social situation. The violation of the principles in question may result in the use of metonymy – based euphemisms which I will try to explore in the following discussion. As it was mentioned before, there are certain cognitive and communicative principles which account for the choice of preferred metonymic vehicles. Among cognitive principles we distinguish for example, the HUMAN OVER NON-HUMAN, the CONCRETE OVER ABSTRACT, the GOOD GESTALT OVER POOR GESTALT or the SPECIFIC OVER GENERIC principle. Kovecses and Radden (1998: 45-50) notice that cognitive principles mainly contribute to human experience, perceptual selectivity and cultural preference. Most of the people’s conceptualizations is affected by our human experiences and perceptions. Thus, we attach greater importance to things that we can easily perceive and interact with. Cultural preferences are also significant factors in determining our choice of certain vehicles in metonymy. Therefore, we often select the stereotypical, ideal or typical members of a category to stand for that category. In the example He has a great heart the cognitive principle CONCRETE OVER ABSTRACT is applied. The hearer encounters no difficulty in understanding the metonymy since we tend to refer to concrete physical object which are more salient than abstract entities. Thus the hearer knows that the speaker is talking about a person who is very kind and not about one whose heart has a large size. The default selection of a metonymic vehicle is also determined by two communicative principles, namely the principle of clarity and the principle of relevance. Entities that are clear and relevant are more preferred to those that are less clear and relevant. Therefore, in a sentence …………………… people achieve the intended target effortlessly since the principle CLEAR OVER OBSCURE governs the understanding of the metonymy. Yet, as Radden and Kovecses (1998: 53) state, cognitive and communicative principles account for the choice of default routes, they are unable to explain the selection of non-default cases of metonymy. One of the examples of non-default routes are metonymic euphemisms. Radden and Kovecses (1998: 53) suggest that what may account for the non-default selection is social considerations. It means that the speaker refrains from uttering a clear, literal expression because he does not want to sound vulgar or indiscrete. The authors (1998: 52) also propose that rhetorical effects may be another reason for choosing a non-default route. The examples of these strategies will be presented later in the discussion. First, however, the term euphemism has to be explained and reasons for its occurrence in language explored. The word ‘euphemism’ is of a Greek origin and it means ‘good sounding’, ‘good auguring’, ‘mild’. In dictionaries it is defined as a rhetorical device. Since Polish and English examples of metonymy-based euphemisms will be presented in the paper, I will give some explanations of the term in question coming from Polish and English linguistic sources. Dictionary of Contemporary English (1990: 346) gives the following definition: ‘the use of a pleasanter, less direct name for something thought to be unpleasant’. Allan and Burridge (1991: 14) propose that euphemisms are ‘alternatives to dispreferred expressions’ and are used to ‘avoid possible loss of face: either one’s own or, by giving offense, that of the audience, or of some third party’. Another explanation comes from...
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