The cognitive metaphor theory according to Lakoff and Johnson

Function and effect of metaphors

Term Paper, 2015

17 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. The essence of metaphors

3. The traditional metaphor theory according to Aristotle

4. The cognitive metaphor theory according to Lakoff and Johnson
4.1. The Basics of Cognitive Metaphor Theory
4.2. The different types of metaphors
4.3. The critique of metaphor theory according to Lakoff and Johnson

5. The effect of metaphors
5.1. The aspects of the investigation
5.2. Empirical metaphor research
5.3. Metaphors in political reporting
5.4. Metaphors in advertising

6. How do metaphors work?

7. Conclusion

8. Literature

1. Introduction

Playing metaphors in our lives a major role . They settle in our minds and occupy an important place in our language.

Metaphors are more than just a rhetorical stylistic device in literary works. They determine people's everyday lives and thinking more than one might think. What appears to be everyday language turns out to be more metaphorical than one assumes at first glance. But metaphors are not only used unconsciously in everyday language, but they are also used specifically in political discourses and in advertising, where they unfold their full effectiveness.

This leads to the question: What effects do metaphors have on thinking and what functions do they fulfill?

The aim of the work is thus to give as broad an overview as possible of the function and effect of metaphors and to investigate their effect on thinking. For this purpose, examples from politics and advertising are examined and evaluated for metaphorical language use. At this point, it should be emphasized that the effect of metaphors cannot be clearly proven in the context of the elaboration – this requires several empirical studies – but conclusions can certainly be drawn about function and effect.

In order to be able to answer the question, the essence of the metaphor should be outlined in advance. Subsequently, the traditional metaphor theory according to Aristotle is presented in order to offer an insight into the origins of metaphor theories and to be able to distinguish them from others. Since the cognitive metaphor theory according to Lakoff and Johnson serves as the basis of this work, it will be briefly presented and the most important Metaphor types are described. Subsequently, criticism of Lakoffs and Johnsons Theory can be outlined. In the main part of the elaboration, as already mentioned, several examples of metaphorical language use from different areas are examined and evaluated in order to be able to draw conclusions about the function and effect of metaphors. Finally, the results are summarized in a conclusion and an outlook on further research aspects is given. It will turn out that metaphors fulfill a variety of functions that have a significant influence on thinking.

2. The essence of metaphors

What are metaphors and how can they be described on a semantic level? This will be presented below and serve as a basis for the subsequent elaboration.

Sebastian Löbner defines 'metaphor' as follows:

"Concepts for things from one Area of origin are borrowed to use things in another area, the target to describe." (Löbner 2015: 62).

"In metaphorical use, an expression refers to things that are essentially similar to those to which the expression refers in its literal meaning" (ibid.: 63).

Let's look at this with an example: in the expression "I have the new apprentice taken under my wing" a concept is borrowed from the area of origin of the bird world to describe the concept of the target area – protecting/caring for. The original meaning is thus transferred to another concept and activates further trains of thought: the image of a bird that protectively spreads its wings over the defenseless offspring so that nothing happens to it. In this way, the actual concept is illustrated and affirmed. The metaphorical expression take under the wing is thus similar in meaning to the literal expression protect/supervise, since both concepts include the aspect of protection. By transferring an expression from the animal world to the activity of a human being, a shift in meaning takes place.

This example can also be applied to the definition of Lakoff and Johnson:

"The essence of the metaphor is that through it we can understand and experience a thing or process in terms of another thing or process." (Lakoff/Johnson 2008:13).

The metaphor from the example favors the understanding and experience of the actually intended process: the supervision and protection of the new apprentice. The expression take under the wing evokes an image that makes the statement more vivid and thus more understandable.

Many metaphors are already integrated into a language community in such a way that they are no longer perceived as metaphors. They are referred to as conventional or 'dead' metaphors (cf. Jäkel 2003: 50-51).

3. The traditional metaphor theory according to Aristotle

The origins of metaphor theory lie in antiquity, in which rhetorical skills in particular were regarded as art. Before looking at current metaphor research, the metaphor theory according to Aristotle will first be examined in more detail.

In his work "Poetics", Aristotle writes:

"A metaphor is the transfer of a word (which is thus used in an unactical sense), either from genus to species, or from species to genus, or from one species to another, or according to the rules of analogy." (Poetics: 89)

Aristotle explains a transfer from the genus to the species using the example "Mein Schiff steht still" (ibid.), from the more general statement that the ship stands still, it can be concluded that it is anchored. If, on the other hand, the number word "ten thousand" is used instead of the word "much", a transfer from the species to the genus takes place (cf. ibid.). The more precise number thus stands for the more general word "much". Furthermore, Aristotle describes the transfer from one species to another with the example of the two types of words of taking away "Skimming the soul with the ore" and "cutting off with the indestructible ore vessel" (ibid.). In addition to the examples mentioned, Aristotle also assigns the analogy to metaphors (cf. ibid.: 90) and describes the metaphors formed by analogy as the most popular (rhetoric: 1411a). Today, however, the analogy serves as an independent rhetorical stylistic device and is no longer counted among the metaphors. According to Aristotle, metaphors are important rhetorical tools that serve above all for illustration and "inanimate [...] revive" (rhetoric: 1412a). Furthermore, what is said in metaphors, i.e. the unselfish meaning and not the literal meaning, is a "spiritual stimulus" and a "gain of knowledge" (rhetoric: 11412a).

In summary, it can be said that the traditional metaphor theory according to Aristotle deals primarily with the use of metaphors in poetry or with their use in rhetorical speeches. Furthermore, Aristotle takes the concept of metaphor much further than it is classified today. The use of metaphors is, in Aristotle's view, an art of rhetoric, "because to form good metaphors means that one can recognize similarities." (Poetics: 94).1

4. The cognitive metaphor theory according to Lakoff and Johnson

4.1. The Basics of Cognitive Metaphor Theory

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson started their work in 1980 Metaphors We Live By 2 very well received. They found that metaphors are not only a means of rhetoric, but rather determine everyday language and thus also thought and action (cf. Lakoff/Johnson 2008: 11). They justify this in the fact that the concepts that structure everyday thinking and acting are largely metaphorical, which means that metaphors unconsciously structure thinking (cf.: ibid.). Unconsciously used metaphors in everyday language are described by Lakoff and Johnson as "conventionalized Metaphors" (ibid.: 161). Furthermore, the metaphorical concepts are primarily culture-dependent, since phenomena can be conceptualized differently by different cultures (cf. ibid:17).3

Lakoff and Johnson illustrate this, among other things, with the example of "ARGUING IS WAR" (ibid.: 12-14); the concept of argumentation is partially structured by the concept of warfare: for example, one can make arguments of the opponent putting down, defending positions and use strategies, to make an argument to win (cf. ibid.: 12). Both the concept, the action and the language are structured by metaphors and have become established in the language of everyday life, so that they do not appear metaphorical to us in everyday use (cf. ibid.: 13-14).

Another essential aspect of cognitive metaphor theory is that the origin of metaphors lies largely in the physical experiences of man (cf. ibid.: 71). For example, the concept "BEING AWAKE IS UP / SLEEPING IS DOWN" (ibid.: 23) illustrates how we structure language based on our physical experience. This is how metaphorical expressions such as "Stand up" are created. on. awake on." or "He Sank into a deep sleep." (ibid.). In addition to physical experiences, emotional, mental and cultural experiences also play a role (cf. ibid.: 73). Thus, the metaphorical concepts can also give rise to "idioms" and "lexicalized fixed word combinations" (ibid.: 65), which can also be found equally in everyday language use.

4.2. The different types of metaphors

Metaphor is not the same as metaphor. In order to be able to investigate the effect metaphors have on thinking, a brief overview of the different types of metaphors will first be given. Lakoff and Johnson have clearly summarized the different types of metaphors.

When "a concept is metaphorically structured from another concept" (Lakoff/Johnson: 22), this is done through structural metaphors. The metaphorical concept example "TIME IS MONEY" illustrates how the concept of "time" is metaphorically structured with the concept of "money" (cf. ibid.: 16). Expressions such as that costs me a lot of time and it's a waste of time are just two examples of many that illustrate that structural metaphors are used to structure facts. Lakoff and Johnson emphasize that the two concepts are not identical, but only "partially structured" (ibid.: 21).

Next, let's take a closer look at the orientation metaphors: as the name suggests, they mainly concern spatial orientation such as above and below (cf. Lakoff/Johnson 2011:22). According to Lakoff and Johnson, orientation metaphors give a concept a spatial classification (cf. ibid.). Let's shed light on this phenomenon on the basis of the emotional world and the already mentioned classification above and below: positive feelings – such as happiness – are generally above and negative feelings below classified. For example, a mood can sink and climb you can go to high mood or by something pulled down (cf. ibid.). This is to be attributed to the physical basis that in sadness a bent posture is taken and in positive feelings an upright posture is taken (cf. ibid.).4 Lakoff and Johnson found that the "HAPPY IS UP" metaphor is coherent because with above only positive feelings are described (cf. Lakoff/Johnson 2011:26). Furthermore, they emphasize that spatial metaphors are culture-dependent and thus do not arise arbitrarily (cf. ibid.).

Ontological metaphors make abstract phenomena, such as feelings, more tangible by assigning them properties (cf. ibid.: 35). Lakoff and Johnson's example concept "THE SPIRIT IS A MACHINE" (ibid.: 38) makes it clear that with Expressions such as my head smokes or my spirit is getting going the human mind is metaphorically illustrated. Ontological metaphors often occur in the form of personifications, which, according to Lakoff and Johnson, have a "unique explanatory power" (ibid.: 45).

In addition to personification, metonymy is also closely linked to metaphors. While the metaphor considers a "fact in the light of another fact" (ibid.: 47), metonymy uses an entity to refer to another entity (ibid.). For example, in the case of the statement "I hear Mozart" on the Music by Mozart and not on something that Mozart himself said. Often in metonymy, a part also stands for the whole: "We need more helping hands" refers to people who can actively support, whereas "We need more clever minds" on intelligent people (cf. ibid.). According to Lakoff and Johnson, metonymous expressions also structure, like metaphors, not only language but also thought and action (cf. ibid.: 51).

As it turned out, there are different types of metaphors that are already so integrated into everyday language that they are usually no longer perceived as metaphors, but have become much more a part of the language.

4.3. The critique of metaphor theory according to Lakoff and Johnson

The cognitive metaphor theory of Lakoff and Johnson has provoked not only approval but also criticism, which will be briefly presented below.

Rudolf Schmitt is one of the critics (cf. Schmitt 2011).5 Above all, he criticizes the fact that the context of the example metaphors used by Lakoff and Johnson is not explained in more detail, which is necessary especially when understanding metaphors (Schmitt 2011: 171). Schmitt rightly notes that it is only the context of conversation or utterance that turns metaphor into metaphor (cf. ibid.: 173). He illustrates this with an example: whether the expression "sitting in the glass house"" (ibid.) literally or as a metaphor, one can only decide on the basis of the context or the situation of expression (cf. ibid.). Furthermore, no real communication situations were considered, but only allegations were made (ibid.: 172). At this point, Schmitt's criticisms must be approved, since Lakoff and Johnson focus on everyday metaphors, these would also have to be documented accordingly with the conversation situation that took place in everyday life.

He also refers to the authors' lack of "own interpretive work" (ibid.: 171), which according to Schmitt is particularly important for the understanding of metaphorical concepts (ibid.). The ordering of metaphors according to references is closely anchored with the hermeneutic understanding and thus also with the person living in this culture (ibid.).

Another point of criticism is the inconsistency in Lakoff's works, which causes inconsistencies (cf. ibid.: 172). Likewise, the universality of metaphors is not guaranteed, since metaphors can have different meanings from culture to culture (cf. ibid.: 173).

Furthermore, Schmitt criticizes the "distracting references to neurobiological brain research" (Schmitt 2011: 171). One has to agree that the presentation of concrete examples would have been more helpful than the excursions into neurobiological brain research.


1 For a detailed examination of the metaphor theory according to Aristotle, cf. Kurz (2004: 8-12), who criticizes above all the label-like representation of the metaphor.

2 Lakoff, George/Johnson, Mark (1980): Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

3 Lakoff and Johnson cite the monk order as an example for the universally valid concept "BIGGER IS BETTER" (Lakoff/Johnson 2011: 33).

4 Lakoff and Johnson give a variety of examples of each metaphor type. In the context of the work, however, an example should suffice to illustrate the respective type of metaphor. For a deepening see Lakoff / Johnson (2011): 23-26.

5 In addition to Rudolf Schmitt, Olaf Jäkel (2003: 42-62), Jörg Jost (2007: 290), Helge Skirl and Monika Schwarz-Friesel (2007: 10-11) as well as Matthias Junge (2011: 216) have also criticized or supplemented the theory of Lakoff and Johnson.

Excerpt out of 17 pages


The cognitive metaphor theory according to Lakoff and Johnson
Function and effect of metaphors
RWTH Aachen University  (Institut für Sprach- und Kommunikationswissenschaft)
Seminar zum Thema Semantik
Catalog Number
lakoff, johnson, function
Quote paper
Stefanie Poschen (Author), 2015, The cognitive metaphor theory according to Lakoff and Johnson, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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