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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Dr Joerg Zinken (University of Portsmouth) in dialogue with Professor David Cowling (MLAC): Metaphor as a linguistic activity

28th January 2008, 17:15 to 19:15, Institute of Advanced Study, Cosin's Hall, Durham University

This is part of the Metaphors as Models Interdisciplinary Dialogues series.

Successful metaphors are constitutive of domains of activity (e.g., Schoen, 1979). For example, ethical debates about the implications of ‘deciphering the book of life’ act upon, rather than question, the assumption that establishing a person’s DNA-sequence tells you as much about that person as reading a book tells you about the contents of that book. We can therefore think of successful metaphors as models for our thinking and acting.

But what is it that gives some metaphors this significance? Why has the computer-metaphor of mind become constitutive of Cognitive Psychology? Why are temporal relationships spatialised in similar ways across many languages? Most recent research has aimed to answer this question by finding the ‘place’ where metaphors ‘reside’ – the ‘basis’ of metaphor, so to speak.

In this talk, the parallels between these otherwise opposing standpoints will be outlined. Both approaches share the problem that they assume that metaphorical meaning is somehow ‘there’ in the relevant structure (the cultural model or the brain). Since metaphor researchers would reject this ‘conduit metaphor’ of meaning (Reddy, 1993 [1979]), generalising metaphorical utterances into cultural models, or neuronal networks, is only an apparent explanation of a metaphor’s success. An alternative approach will be outlined here, which analyses successful metaphors as elements in a history of discourse (Gigerenzer & Goldstein, 1996; Zinken & Musolff, in prep.).

This perspective has consequences for theories of metaphor meaning. In particular, consequences for theorising about the universality of some metaphors will be highlighted.

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