Implications of the Conceptual Metaphor "Languages are Creatures"

Presentation (Elaboration), 2006

14 Pages, Grade: 1,0




1 Conceptual Metaphor. Definition


3 Implications of the Conceptual Metaphor LANGUAGES ARE CREATURES
3.1 Direct Causal Links
3.2 Untenability of Direct Causal Links


Reference List

Cultural metaphors, and the values entailed by them,

are propagated by ritual

(Lakoff/Johnson 1980, 234)

People in power tend to impose their metaphors

(as uttered by Charlotte Linde in Lakoff/Johnson 1980, 157)


Much of today’s ecolinguistic discourse is characterized by the extensive use of the conceptual metaphor Languages are creatures. The language of the Linguistic Human Rights Movement and that of such ecolinguists as Mühlhäusler (1996) and Skuttnabb-Kangas (2000, esp. xxxi-xxxiii), to mention but a few, abound in such expressions as “language murder” or “linguistic genocide”, especially when they engage in the criticism of post-colonial English and the so-called “linguistic imperialism”. Although the conceptual metaphor in question is no recent invention, it is its use by the ecolinguists mentioned above that can and does generate much hostility towards English, in the first place. Furthermore, the practice shows that, based on the conceptual metaphor under consideration, the inferences made with respect to real biological species have been all too eagerly transferred to the domains of language, which should not take root in scientific discourse, simultaneously changing it, since inferences drawn from the metaphorical system should not be taken literally (Polzenhagen/Dirven 2004, § 3.2.). Thus, when reading secondary literature on the politics of English as a global language, the reader gains an impression that there is much controversy going on about the adequacy of some conceptual metaphors used in linguistic studies, the conceptual metaphor Languages are creatures being one of them: While Skuttnabb-Kangas (2000, esp. xxxi-xxxiii) regards her extensive use of the conceptual metaphor in question as being justified, Lucko (2003) and Polzenhagen/Dirven (2004) strongly criticize its increasingly indiscreet use.

To unravel the knot of the problems that arise from the use of the conceptual metaphor Languages are creatures, the notion of conceptual metaphor as defined by the originators of the Conceptual Metaphor Theory George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (1980) is to be dwelt on first. Second, in order to better grasp the conceptual metaphor Languages are creatures in its functioning, some of the linguistic examples structured by virtue of this conceptual metaphor will be given. Finally, some of the implications of the conceptual metaphor Languages are creatures will be indicated. In short, I would like to show what the consequences of an unrestrained use of the conceptual metaphor Languages are creatures are, how they arise from the conceptual metaphor under consideration, and why these consequences are untenable from the point of view of those linguists who structure their scholarly discourse by virtue of another conceptual metaphor, namely LANGUAGE IS A TOOL. My aim is to make the reader more sensitive to the use of metaphors in general and to the use and implications of the conceptual metaphor Languages are creatures in particular. My current position that the conceptual metaphor Language is a tool is more adequate in scholarly settings due to its neutrality and its implicit emphasis on the speaker is a result of my preoccupation with the contributions by Lucko (2003 and in conversation), and Polzenhagen/Dirven (2004) as compared with those by the above-mentioned ecolinguists.

1 Conceptual Metaphor. Definition

Metaphor is traditionally defined as a figure of speech, which describes one thing by stating another with which it can be compared. The key constituents in this connection are source domain, target domain, and tertium comparationis or TC. Formulated in this traditional way, metaphors have long been regarded as belonging solely to the domains of rhetoric, art and poetry, i.e. to the domains of “extraordinary”, eloquent, poetic language. It is thanks to Lakoff/Johnson (1980) that new insights into the nature of human thought, action and language were provided[1]. Postulating that “[o]ur ordinary conceptual[2] system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature” (Lakoff/Johnson 1980, 3), Lakoff and Johnson have thus expanded the “traditional” function of metaphor, its primary function “now” being providing a partial understanding of one kind of experience or thing in terms of another kind of experience or thing in our everyday life (Lakoff/Johnson 1980, 154; my emphasis), i.e. the less clearly delineated (and usually abstract) concepts, or defined concepts, are partially understood in terms of the more clearly delineated (and usually more concrete) concepts, or defining concepts, the latter being directly grounded in our experience (Lakoff/Johnson 1980, 108-109). Thus, metaphor is always directional, i.e. we understand the defined concept in terms of the defining one. To sum it up, conceptual metaphors can be defined as “[…] mental constructs to help us deal with abstract phenomena we cannot immediately perceive through our senses” (Lucko 2003, 152).

It is especially structural conceptual metaphors – as distinct from orientational and ontological ones – that are of interest to me here since “[n]ew metaphors are mostly structural. They can create similarities […]” (Lakoff/Johnson 1980, 152). Structural metaphors establish similarities between the target and the source domains and these similarities do not exist independently of the metaphor. Thus, similarities of a new kind can be created by metaphor and metaphor can thereby define a new reality we could live by without questioning it in the future. To conclude,

In most cases, what is at issue is not the truth or falsity of a metaphor but the perceptions and inferences that follow from it and the actions that are sanctioned by it. In all aspects of life, not just in politics or in love, we define our reality in terms of metaphors and then proceed to act on the basis of the metaphors. We draw inferences, set goals, make commitments, and execute plans, all on the basis of how we in part structure our experience, consciously and unconsciously, by means of metaphor. (Lakoff/Johnson 1980, 158; my emphasis)


[1] It should be noted here that some of the ideas presented by Lakoff and Johnson with respect to the pervasiveness of metaphor in our everyday life can be found in the works by Nietzsche, e.g. in his Die Geburt der Tragödie.

[2] According to Lakoff/Johnson (1980), concepts are multidimensional gestalts, i.e. structured wholes, whose dimensions emerge naturally from our experiences in and/or our interactions with the world.

Excerpt out of 14 pages


Implications of the Conceptual Metaphor "Languages are Creatures"
Humboldt-University of Berlin  (Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik)
HS The Politics of English as a Global Language
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ISBN (eBook)
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In der Arbeit wird der Frage nachgegangen, ob Englisch eine Killer-Sprache ist. Dem ökolinguistischen Ansatz wird begründet der funktionalistische Ansatz vorgezogen.
Implications, Conceptual, Metaphor, LANGUAGES, CREATURES
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Maryna Zühlke (Author), 2006, Implications of the Conceptual Metaphor "Languages are Creatures", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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