The Contemporary Theory of Metaphor

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The Contemporary Theory of Metaphor George Lakoff
(c) Copyright George Lakoff, 1992 To Appear in Ortony, Andrew (ed.) Metaphor and Thought (2nd edition), Cambridge University Press. Do not go gentle into that good night. -Dylan Thomas Death is the mother of beauty . . . -Wallace Stevens, Sunday Morning

Introduction
These famous lines by Thomas and Stevens are examples of what classical theorists, at least since Aristotle, have referred to as metaphor: instances of novel poetic language in which words like mother, go, and night are not used in their normal everyday senses. In classical theories of language, metaphor was seen as a matter of language not thought. Metaphorical expressions were assumed to be mutually exclusive with the realm of ordinary everyday language: everyday language had no metaphor, and metaphor used mechanisms outside the realm of everyday conventional language. The classical theory was taken so much for granted over the centuries that many people didn’t realize that it was just a theory. The theory was not merely taken to be true, but came to be taken as definitional. The word metaphor was defined as a novel or poetic linguistic expression where one or more words for a concept are used outside of its normal conventional meaning to express a similar concept. But such issues are not matters for definitions; they are empirical questions. As a cognitive scientist and a linguist, one asks: What are the generalizations governing the linguistic expressions re ferred to classically as poetic metaphors? When this question is answered rigorously, the classical theory turns out to be false. The generalizations governing poetic metaphorical expressions are not in language, but in thought: They are general map pings across conceptual domains. Moreover, these general princi ples which take the form of conceptual mappings, apply not just to novel poetic expressions, but to much of ordinary everyday language. In short, the locus of metaphor is not in language at all, but in the way we conceptualize one mental domain in terms of another. The general theory of metaphor is given by characterizing such crossdomain mappings. And in the process, everyday abstract concepts like time, states, change, causation, and pur pose also turn out to be metaphorical. The result is that metaphor (that is, cross-domain mapping) is absolutely central to ordinary natural language semantics, and that the study of literary metaphor is an extension of the study of everyday metaphor. Everyday metaphor is characterized by a huge system of thousands of cross-domain mappings, and this system is made use of in novel metaphor. Because of these empirical results, the word metaphor has come to be used differently in contemporary metaphor research. The word metaphor has come to mean a cross-domain mapping in the conceptual system. The term metaphorical expression refers to a linguistic

expression (a word, phrase, or sentence) that is the surface realization of such a crossdomain mapping (this is what the word metaphor referred to in the old theory). I will adopt the contemporary usage throughout this chapter. Experimental results demonstrating the cognitive reali ty of the extensive system of metaphorical mappings are discussed by Gibbs (this volume). Mark Turner’s 1987 book, Death is the mother of beauty, whose title comes from Stevens’ great line, demonstrates in detail how that line uses the ordinary system of everyday mappings. For further examples of how literary metaphor makes use of the ordinary metaphor system, see More Than Cool Reason: A Field Guide to Poetic Metaphor, by Lakoff and Turner (1989) and Reading Minds: The Study of English in the Age of Cognitive Science, by Turner (1991). Since the everyday metaphor system is central to the understanding of poetic metaphor, we will begin with the everyday system and then turn to poetic examples.

Homage To Reddy
The contemporary theory that metaphor is primarily conceptual,...
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