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Durham University

School of Modern Languages & Cultures

Events in Modern Languages & Cultures

Dr Joerg Zinken: Metaphor as a linguistic activity

28th January 2008, 17:15, Cosin's Hall, Durham University
Dr Joerg Zinken [University of Portsmouth] in dialogue with Professor David Cowling, Dept of French, Durham University as part of the interdisciplinary dialogue series Metaphors as Models.

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. Some approaches have emphasised the social aspects of metaphorical meaning, and have argued that successful metaphors are ‘socially situated’ (e.g., Zinken, Hellsten, & Nerlich, in press). Other (more influential) approaches have emphasised the primacy of particular (hypothesised) brain structures in accounting for the success of some metaphors. This is particularly true for researchers in Evolutionary Psychology (such as Steven Pinker) and Conceptual Metaphor Theory (such as George Lakoff).

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.

Gigerenzer, G., & Goldstein, D. G. (1996). Mind as computer: birth of a metaphor. Creativity Research Journal, 9(2-3), 131-144.
Reddy, M. J. (1993 [1979]). The conduit metaphor: A case of frame conflict in our language about language. In A. Ortony (Ed.), Metaphor and Thought (pp. 164-201). Cambridge: CUP.
Schoen, D. A. (1979). Generative Metaphors: A Perspective on Problem Solving in Social Policy. In A. Ortony (Ed.), Metaphor and thought (pp. 254-283). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Zinken, J., Hellsten, I., & Nerlich, B. (in press for 2008). Discourse metaphors. In R. Dirven, R. Frank & E. Bernardez (Eds.), Body, Language, and Mind: Sociocultural Situatedness (Vol. 2). Berlin: Mouton.
Zinken, J., & Musolff, A. (in prep. For 2008). Introduction. In A. Musolff & J. Zinken (Eds.), Metaphor and discourses. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

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