Metaphors We Drill By?

An Analysis of the Metaphors Used in the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Discourse

Bachelor Thesis, 2010

72 Pages, Grade: 2,1


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Literature Review
2.1 Metaphors
2.2 Metaphor Theories
2.2.1 Aristotle & Traditional Theories
2.2.2 Interaction View of Metaphor
2.2.3 Lakoff’s & Johnson’s Approach to Metaphor

3 Background

4 Methodology
4.1 Sample
4.2 Data Collection & Analysis

5 Results & Discussion

6 Interpretation
6.1 Limitations of Study

7 Summary


German Summary / Deutsche Zusammenfassung

1 Introduction

Up to this point, the year 2010 has seen a seemingly unproportional share of environmental catastrophes, be they man-made or of natural origin. Incidents like the earthquakes of Haiti, Chile, and China in the first four months of the year and floods in Eastern Europe and Pakistan in the summer time constitute only some of the events that will be remembered by the world community for years to come. These catastrophes have left their marks on the lives of many people and have had a substantial impact on their futures. They have caused people to lose their homes, their jobs and most tragically, their loved ones. There are also, however, natural catastrophes in 2010 which were attributed to human error. As one of the bigger events of the year, the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill off the Gulf Coast of the United States of America on April 2010 can be considered as such an accident.

Also known as the BP Oil Spill, the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill has caused an ecological disaster of unknown magnitude. With five million barrels of oil released into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico since April 20, the oil spill has overtrumped the Ixtoc I Oil Spill of 1979 by approximately 2 million barrels as the “world’s largest accidental release” (Robertson, 2010). The accident was caused by an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform on April 20, 2010, killing 11 workers and injuring 17 others stationed there (Welch, 2010). The result of the explosion was a leak in the oil well and the consequent gushing out of oil into the Gulf. The British energy company, BP p.l.c., had been the operator and leaser of the drilling rig at that time. Various attempts were made by BP, as the only company with the necessary expertise and equipment, to cap the well – all of them without success. As of September 10, the well has not been sealed off permanently, only temporary solutions having been applied to limit the amount of oil releasing in to the Gulf as much as possible (Fausset, 2010). Fragile ecological systems, tourism and with it, the lives of people in the region who depend on the oil and fishing industry, have been damaged considerably.

In this respect, the institutions involved in this incident did not have a good standing in public. As the major party responsible for the accident, BP has been criticized heavily by the people and the government. The White House, although not directly responsible, is also held accountable for the disaster by many folks. The lack of sufficient safety regulations installed by BP and enforced by the government have put these two parties in a very negative light in recent months. These two organizations, BP more than the White House, have had to engage in an uphill battle against the media and especially the public. Both have made attempts to ease the tensions and to confront the criticism put forward by the American people as well as the global community. BP, for example, has started an aggressive advertising campaign, apologizing to the public for the spill in television, newspaper and internet ads (Smith, 2010). Also, websites were launched by the two parties as means to keep the world informed at all times.

Apart from such measures, BP and the White House have made use of speeches and remarks to establish a connection between them and the people. In these speeches, officials from BP and the President of the United States, respectively, have made it their goal to inform the public about the latest happenings concerning the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and their response efforts. It can be assumed that the separate organizations do not only try to objectively inform the people, but also present their views on the matter. Since the accident is viewed from different standpoints, it can only be concluded that the speeches from them are bound to subjectivity. It is common knowledge that such situations present a playing field for political games. Every event of such magnitude is an opportunity for certain parties involved to present themselves from their best side, and is therefore exploited accordingly. It is without doubt that the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill provides exactly such an opportunity. In this respect, the speeches serve as linguistic tools to communicate certain images that are intended to be conveyed by their speakers.

The aim of this paper is to analyze such speeches with regards to metaphors. Metaphors, as an important feature of rhetoric, have been acknowledged to be an essential tool in speeches for ages. Since Aristotle, philosophers, linguists and researchers of all kinds of fields have tried to understand this particular tool. What is a metaphor, how does it work, and what is its function? All of these questions will be dealt with on the following pages. The focus of this paper, however, is to find out the relationship between the applied metaphors and their applicants. The speeches published by BP and the White House concerning the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill are especially interesting in this way, because it is almost certain that both parties have intentions behind the use of metaphors. This is particularly evident in BP’s case: Because the company is directly responsible for the accident, they are obliged to take an apologetic stance towards the public. As a company in the free market, their ultimate goal can only be that of making profit. For that to happen, BP needs to restore their public reputation. It is assumable that the White House is not intention-free, either. As already mentioned, metaphors serve in this respect as means to convey certain images and, therefore, manipulate the information presented.

With this in mind, this paper will analyze the speeches published by BP and the Obama Administration, respectively. The ultimate goal is to find out what metaphors are used in the speeches and what images are conveyed through their use. In this regard, it was suggested that both parties have specific agendas that could be uncovered by looking at the use of specific metaphors. What can these metaphors and their conveyed images tell the hearer about these agendas? Are there certain agendas that the respective parties want to push at all? All of these questions mark the essence of this paper. First, in order to understand the metaphor per se, several theories are presented, all with their individual approaches to metaphors. In this section, the Literature Review chapter, the questions of what a metaphor does, how it does it and its function are answered according to their respective interpretations. Second, the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill will be looked at in more detail in the Background chapter. Third, the methodological setup will be explained. The results of the analysis and their discussion, and interpretation can be found in chapters 5 and 6, respectively.

2 Literature Review

2.1 Metaphors

Many see metaphors as an important literary device mainly used in poems, novels, and other types of literature. While this is in fact correct, metaphors play an important role in basically every aspect of language. Metaphor is a feature of natural language, and it is not only being used in professional discourses but in daily discourse as well (Steinhart, 1994). One might not be aware of the regular use of metaphors in daily life at first sight, but when talking about prices rising, babies being on their way or dying people leaving us, it becomes clear that using language without metaphors becomes a quite difficult endeavor. The use of metaphors in language provides more possibilities of articulation in cases in which literal meanings might fail or are simply not accurate enough to convey the intended meaning (Bussmann, 1996). In the words of Aristotle, who will be dealt with in the following chapter, “We can now see that a good writer can produce a style that is distinguished without being obtrusive, and is at the same time clear, thus satisfying our definition of good oratorical prose” (Aristotle, trans. 2005, p. 81). Other scholars go even further. They state that metaphors do not only play an important part in language, but that no understanding of language and linguistic capacities is complete without an adequate account of metaphor (Steinhart, 1994).

Metaphors have come a long way in scientific research. Beginning with Aristotle and other Greek philosophers, metaphors were seen as part of literary and rhetoric theory. This approach dominated throughout the following centuries and the renaissance (Bussmann, 1996). In the first half of the twentieth century, various different theories emerged that tried to analyze metaphors as a feature of natural language. Metaphors today, in the literary sense, are considered to be mainly linguistic phenomena (Bussmann, 1996). Therefore, first and foremost, linguists are the ones concerned with metaphors and their linguistic features. As the Encyclopedia of Languages and Linguistics states,

“[linguistic] investigators want to understand the structure of metaphorical utterances, the features that distinguish them from both literal utterances and other figurative speech and their truth and meaning; they study how metaphors are used in communication insofar as what is intended to be understood different than what is literally said; and they try to answer why people so often resort to metaphor to communicate and stretch the cognitive and expressive capacities of language.”

(Steinhart, 1994, p. 2452)

However, metaphors have also been part of research in other scientific fields, combining linguistics and psychology for example. Cognitive psychologists and cognitive linguists have developed theories on why metaphors are used and how they work (Steinhart, 1994). With the emergence of computers and artificial intelligence, metaphors, as part of natural language, have become a subject of research for computational scientists. Theories in this field include the componential analysis, fuzzy logic, or semantic networks, to name a few (Steinhart, 1994).

Without a doubt, metaphors play an important part in our lives. Without them, communication would be limited, but more importantly, the understanding of abstract meanings and things would not be possible in many cases. In more detail, according to George Lakoff, metaphors permit

“one to take highly structured knowledge of concrete situations and to use it to comprehend other situations which are more abstract. It is thus central to the human capacity for abstract reason.”

(Lakoff, 1992, p. 419)

The following chapters will deal with some of the most important theories of metaphors, which were shortly mentioned above. These theories are necessary to understand metaphors in a more detailed sense, beyond the basic definition of the exchange of similar images. These theories try to explain how metaphors work, their functions and their importance.

2.2 Metaphor Theories

2.2.1 Aristotle & Traditional Theories

As explained earlier, metaphors are a large part of natural language and they are being used in texts, speeches and virtually every kind of discourse for millennia. Old Greek scholars, like Aristotle, have dealt with this rhetorical figure, hundreds of years before scholars seriously engaged linguistics as a scientific field. In his works Poetics (335 B.C., trans. 1895) and Rhetoric (350 B.C., trans. 2005), Aristotle comments and gives a guideline on how successful poems and persuasive speeches should be constructed. Here, metaphors are discussed as part of both text types. His definition of metaphor has held up until today and is still taught in schools and universities.

“Metaphor is the application of an alien name by transference either from genus to species, or from species to genus, or from species to species, or by analogy, that is, proportion.”

(Aristotle, trans. 1895, p. 73)

For Aristotle, the metaphor is a transfer of a word to another, rather unrelated, word. Strictly speaking, this means that metaphors are utterances in which words are substituted. This thesis is the basis for the so called substitution theory, first coined by Max Black in the middle of the twentieth century (Black, 1987). According to this theory, “proper or regular” words (Aristotle, trans. 2005, p.81) are exchanged with foreign words (or “strange words”, in Aristotle’s words (Aristotle, trans. 1895, p. 73)). This substitution can only occur because the two words are similar in meaning or because there is an analogy between the two. Aristotle refers to this analogy in detail, in Poetics:

“Analogy or proportion is when the second term is to the first as the fourth to the third. We may then use the fourth for the second, or the second for the fourth. Sometimes too we qualify the metaphor by adding the term to which the proper word is relative. Thus the cup is to Dionysus as the shield to Ares. The cup may, therefore, be called ‘the shield of Dionysus’ and the shield ‘the cup of Ares.’ Or again, as old age is to life, so is evening to day. Evening may therefore be called ‘the old age of the day,’ and old age, ‘the evening of life’ or, in the phrase of Empedocles, ‘life’s setting sun.’”

(Aristotle, trans. 1895, p. 73)

Aristotle and supporters of the substitution theory see metaphors as part of natural language, however, it is not appropriate to use them outside of rhetorical or literature language. While even Aristotle admits that, sometimes, metaphors are unavoidable in order to convey a specific meaning (due to the lack of words or expressions in the language), for him, they primarily serve as decoration (Aristotle, trans. 2005). If metaphors would be used exclusively in language, it would not be understandable for the recipient (Aristotle, trans. 1895). Therefore, as a stylistic device, the use of metaphors require significant skills in language production and “and it is not a thing whose use can be taught by one man to another” (Aristotle, trans. 2005, p. 82). Aristotle’s refusal to see metaphors as part of everyday language was refuted later in more modern theories (see chapter Lakoff’s & Johnson’s Approach to Metaphor).

To simplify, the thesis of the substitution theory can be explained as follows:

“A metaphor in the form ‘A is B’ represents a substitution of the originally literally intended statement ‘A is C’.”

(Pielenz, 1993, p. 62)

In other words, ‘A is B’ is substituted by ‘A is C’. The known metaphor Men are pigs will be used as means to further exemplify this thesis. Men are pigs is equivalent to ‘A is B’. The original statement, in the literal sense, is men are dirty, fat, without manner, etc.. This corresponds to ‘A is C’, with ‘C’ being the actual word, in its truest sense. ‘C’ is also referred to as the verbum propium (Pielenz, 1993, p. 62; Feng, 2003, p. 23). For the substitution to work, ‘B’ must have some qualities, which are attributed to ‘C’ as well. In this case, the word pig has a meaning, which is dirty. The substitution theory therefore suggests that a metaphor is a substitution of an actual word by another, “not actual” word. As a logical consequence, this would mean that the theory implies there is a literal or actual meaning for every metaphor. This complies with Aristotle’s opinion that the purpose of metaphors is to decorate the language, because there is no need to use a metaphor, since every metaphor could be expressed literally. As mentioned before, this traditional and still popular approach to the understanding of metaphors can not hold its ground against modern theories which suggest that communication would not be possible without metaphors (see chapter Lakoff’s & Johnson’s Approach to Metaphor).

Parallel to the substitution theory, Max Black, among others, helped to define the comparison theory, or as he calls it, the comparison view of metaphor (Black, 1987). The comparison theory is based on Marcus Tullius Cicero’s (106 B.C.) theory of metaphor (trans. 1892). Both theories are difficult to differentiate, mainly because they rely on the same basic principle. Analog to the thesis of the substitution theory, Pielenz understands the comparison theory as follows:

“A metaphor in the form of ‘A is B’ represents a transformation of the literally intended statement ‘A is like B’ via analogy or similarity.”

(1993, p. 61)

This thesis implies that a metaphor is nothing more than a shortened comparison or simile. When applied to the metaphor men are pigs, the comparison view of metaphor can be explained like this: The statement men are pigs includes the intended literal meaning men are as dirty as pigs or men are like pigs (because they are dirty or fat, etc.). Contrary to the substitution theory, the comparison theory does not equate the attributes of ‘B’ and ‘C’. Instead, it compares ‘A’ and ‘B’. Max Black explains the main difference between both theories:

“Briefly stated, the substitution view regards the entire sentence that is the locus of the metaphor as replacing some set of literal sentences; while the comparison view takes the imputed literal paraphrase to be a statement of some similarity or analogy, and so takes every metaphor to be a condensed or elliptic simile.”

(Black, 1993, p. 27)

The comparison theory brings some of the same flaws with it that the substitution theory has, namely that it is not always applicable. Like the substitution theory, the comparison theory implies that all metaphor can be reverted back to literal statements. In this case, however, it is not because the words are substituted, it is because it expresses a comparison between ‘A’ and ‘B’.

2.2.2 Interaction View of Metaphor

Max Black, who coined and refined the theories of substitution and comparison, developed a theory of his own. He named this third theory the interaction view of metaphor (Black, 1993) (also referred to as the interaction theory or interactionist view in this paper). The interaction view of metaphor is based on and influenced by I.A. Richards (1936), who, in turn, was a scholar of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a Romantic poet and philosopher. Richards’ approach to metaphors was based on a very different perspective than those of other theories before him. Unlike Aristotle’s conception of metaphors, Richards does not see the metaphor as an isolated word (Richards, 1936). It is not a substitution on a word level, either. For Richards, the comprehension of metaphors can not be limited to language (or linguistics) only. Rather, metaphors should be understood within a context. This context is not only the textual context, but also the extra-linguistic context (Richards, 1936). This approach was evidence for a new way of thinking about metaphors as part of natural language. It included cognitive science in order to get a broader, yet more complete view on metaphors. Although there are still many scholars who are supporters of the more traditional theories, like the substitution theory, the twentieth century marked the emergence of many different theories, which approached metaphors from many other perspectives. Harald Weydt has made comments on the traditional theories and their hypotheses, distancing himself from their ideas:

“We should separate ourselves from the four theses about the metaphor that are in circulation right now. These are: The metaphor

1) should be understood as deviation from normal language,
2) is as such not original,
3) consists in avoiding a verbum propium
4) hinders rational knowledge.”

(1986, p. 89)

It became more and more apparent that metaphors are primarily a construct of meaning. They do not only represent (or substitute) meaning, they create unique meanings, too, which are not possible to be substituted or paraphrased otherwise. This focus on meaning instead of a pure linguistic approach gained increasing acceptance from the scientific community. The reason for this is basically the inability of the former theories to explain how metaphors are perceived, understood, and what their relation is to meaning. By limiting the metaphor to an utterance of language alone, the metaphor is reduced to nothing more but a literary stylistic device, and a language decoration, unnecessary for rational communication. But, as experience shows, this is not the case. Metaphors are sometimes the only way to express certain information. Even in the most rational discourse of them all, scientific discourse, metaphors seem unavoidable. For instance, firewalls, gateways, ports are some terms used in computational discourse that help us understand concepts of otherwise not graspable things. Max Black (1987) expresses this notion in his own words:

“We need the metaphors in just the cases when there can be no question as yet of the precision of scientific statement. Metaphorical statement is not a substitute for a formal comparison or any other kind of literal statement, but has its own distinctive capacities and achievements.”

(p. 542)

The interaction of the interaction theory is explained by I.A. Richards (1936) as follows:

“In the simplest formulation, when we use a metaphor we have two thoughts of different things active together and supported by a single word, or phrase, whose meaning is a resultant of their interaction.”

(p. 96)

According to Max Black, his theory of interaction is not restricted by the weaknesses associated with the two theories described before (1987). In contrast to these traditional theories, the interaction theory introduces a number of technical termini. Based on Richards’ suggestion that metaphors display an interaction between two ideas (or concepts) , Black works with the two terms principal subject and subsidiary subject. The principal subject and the secondary subject (along with its system of associated commonplaces) are analogous with Richards’ terms tenor and vehicle, respectively (Richards, 1936). To elaborate: In the example Men are pigs, the vehicle is Men and the tenor is pigs. In other words, the vehicle of the metaphor is the idea conveyed by the literal meaning of the words used metaphorically. The tenor is the idea conveyed by the metaphor. Other termini are introduced as well. They will emerge during the following passages and will be dealt with then accordingly.

In order to facilitate the comprehension of the interaction theory, Max Black demonstrates the application of the theory on several examples. One of these examples is the Latin thesis homo hominis lupus, Man is a wolf (Black, 1987). Here, the same rule as above applies: Man, as the literal idea, serves as the principal subject, and wolf, as the metaphorically conveyed meaning, poses as the subsidiary subject.

The intended meaning of this metaphor can only be understood if the recipient knows something about wolfs, humans, and their connection. This system of shared ideas between the principal and subsidiary subjects is what Max Black calls the system of associated commonplaces (Black, 1987). In order for the metaphor to be understood in the same way by the producer and recipient, it is not sufficient if both sides have some kind of system of associated commonplaces. On the contrary: It is required that both parties share the same (or similar, at least) commonplaces. And these commonplaces do not have to be false or right, they only need to be understood in the same way (Black, 1987). For instance, the idea that bird equals flight is shared by many people. This does not mean that this is true, since there are birds like penguins that can not fly. However, most people understand the metaphor I am a bird, because I (or a human being, for that matter), the principal subject, and its system of associated meanings are shared by producer and recipient. The same applies for associations of the subsidiary subject. If the recipient does not share the system of associated commonplaces, the metaphor might not be understood at all, or it might be understood differently.

Returning to the example Man is a wolf, Richards (1936) and Black (1993) suggest that there is an active relationship between the principal and the subsidiary subject: the relationship of interaction. This interaction process is described by Max Black (1993) in the following way:

“In the context of particular metaphorical statement, the two subjects “interact” in the following ways: (a) the presence of the primary subject incites the hearer to select some of the secondary subject’s properties; and (b) invites him to construct a parallel implication-complex that can fit the primary subject; and (c) reciprocally induces parallel changes in the secondary subject.”

(p. 28)

Based on Black’s quote above, the interaction of the metaphor Man is a wolf can be explained like this: When someone who shares our (in our case, western or modern) commonplaces speaks of a wolf, the recipient assumes the speaker implies specific attributes with his statement. In this case, attributes might include wild, devious or aggressive. The idea WOLF is part of a system of associated commonplaces which has no clear boundary, yet it is still determined or defined so far as to allow a detailed listing of attributes, like the ones named before. If man is a wolf, the listener (or recipient) connects these attributes that he/she has about the subsidiary subject and transfers them to the principal subject. Here, the listener thinks of a man as being wild, striving through the woods, fighting with other animals for superiority, etc. The coherent system of attributes chosen must make sense in the way that they can be applied to the principal subject. As a consequence, the idea MAN is being changed by attributes that may convey a specific meaning. When looking at the attributes chosen in this example, it becomes apparent that they have rather negative connotations. Wolves are not always aggressive and ferocious; they can have positive attributes as well, like being responsible and social animals. In this regard, Max Black speaks of different weightings of implications (Black, 1987). The weighting (or ranking) of these attributes/implications are determined cognitively by the listener or speaker alone. The unbalance of attributes leads to a highlight of implications shared by the commonplaces of the subjects. In this example, men are not responsible like wolves; instead, they are aggressive. When using the metaphor Man is a wolf with the intended meaning men are ferocious, etc., the understanding of wolves is also reshaped. By highlighting certain implications, automatically, other implications are downplayed, simultaneously. When men are wolves, and wolves are (supposedly) ferocious, men are ferocious, too. But when men are wolves, and men are ferocious, it downplays that wolves are also social or responsible. This reshaping of meanings and the highlight and downplay of implications of the two subjects is what Max Black calls the interaction theory. “The wolf-metaphor suppresses some details, emphasizes others – in short, organizes our view of man” (Black, 1987, p. 545).

Richards’ and Black’s theory is not undisputed. Both scholars suggest that the interaction process is bidirectional, with both principal and subsidiary subjects influencing one another. Jäkel criticizes this interplay and doubts whether the metaphor Man is a wolf not only changes the perception of man, but that of wolf as well (1997). Man is accredited with wolf-attributes, but is wolf accredited with human-attributes? This critique is not addressed in any way by Richards or Black. Even though the bidirectional interaction between subjects poses as their main idea and hypothesis, most examples discussed only work unidirectional or are explained that way, at least. It seems contradictory (or counterproductive) that the focus was set on examples which do not emphasize this important aspect. The selection of examples implies the restricted use of the interaction theory. As a matter of fact, Black himself discusses this problem (1987). Summarizing the main points, he explicitly lists some requirements for the interactionist theory:

“ (1) A metaphorical statement has two distinct subjects – a “principal” subject and a “subsidiary” one.
(2) These subjects are often best regarded as “system of things” rather than “things”.
(3) The metaphor works by applying to the principal subject a system of “associated implications” characteristic of the subsidiary subject.
(4) These implications usually consist of “commonplaces” about the subsidiary subject, but may, in suitable cases, consist of deviant implications established ad hoc by the writer.
(5) The metaphor selects, emphasizes, suppresses, and organizes features of the principal subject by implying statements about it that normally apply to the subsidiary subject.
(6) This involves shifts in meaning of words belonging to the same family or system as the metaphorical expression; and some of these shifts, though not all, may be metaphorical transfers. (The subordinate metaphors are, however, to be read less “emphatically”.)
(7) There is, in general, no simple “ground” for the necessary shifts of meaning – no blanket reason why some metaphors work and others fail.”

(Black, 1987, p. 548)

According to Black, point (1) is not applicable in the substitution theory, while point (7) is not compatible with the comparison theory (1987, p. 549). The conflicts with these other two theories, however, should not be overrated. Coming back to the restrictive application of the interactionist theory, Max Black says that if only examples that conform to all of the seven requirements could be considered true metaphors, then the correct use of the term metaphor would be limited immensely. In turn, this would lead to “[advocating] a persuasive definition of “metaphor” that would tend to make all metaphors interestingly complex” (Black, 1987, p. 548). He admits that these “trivial” cases would lack a proper term. In these instances, the application of substitution and comparison theories is more appropriate (Black, 1987).

2.2.3 Lakoff’s & Johnson’s Approach to Metaphor

Beginning in the late 1970s, metaphor research has undergone tremendous change in comparison to traditional theories, both in terms of starting point and goal (Bussmann, 1996). As mentioned earlier, the rising interest in cognitive science has led to a different perspective on metaphors and its respective approaches. Since then, the significance of the metaphor and its role in language has been altered dramatically. Through the shift of perspective, the metaphor has become a focal point within everyday language, freeing itself from the boundaries of traditional theories as a stylistic device (Steinhart, 1994). This does not mean, however, that the idea of metaphors and cognition is totally new and revolutionary. By all disagreement regarding metaphors, there is mostly a consensus that the metaphor is constructed by two objects or concepts – at least in its most elementary form. The basic principle for this idea can be traced back to Aristotle’s works. In Rhetoric, he talks about the uniqueness of metaphors as a manifestation of the cognitive ability of the human being; the cognitive ability to connect “distant”, apparently not “similar” things:

“Metaphors must be drawn, as has been said already, from things that are related to the original thing, and yet not obviously so related-just as in philosophy also an acute mind will perceive resemblances even in things far apart.”

(Aristotle, trans. 2005, p. 94)

As mentioned earlier, the subsequent, traditional approaches to metaphor had laid their focus on form or structure. By shifting this focus towards function, newer approaches returned to the original understanding of metaphors as transference of ideas. In this traditional understanding of metaphors it is implied that these ideas belong to different conceptual, cognitive, or semantic areas or domains. Most theories of the later twentieth century have taken this approach as their starting point and basic concept.

As the most prominent work responsible for this change of paradigm, Metaphors We Live By goes one step further. It has made it clear that metaphors play an important role in the concretization of abstract concepts in all of life. Written by the Professor of Linguistics at the University of California, Berkley, George Lakoff and the Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Oregon, Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By (1980) is only one of many works penned by the duo. Their view on metaphors, sometimes referred to as cognitive theory (Jäkel, 1997), is one of several approaches of the twentieth century that took the idea of conceptual domains and made it work. The understanding of such domains is central to the cognitive theory of metaphor. Lakoff’s and Johnson’s collaboration is a testament for the direction that metaphor research was taking. Metaphor became part of an interdisciplinary endeavor that combined linguistics and philosophy. The cooperation with literary scholar and Professor of Cognitive Science, Mark Turner, in More Than Cool Reason: A Field Guide to Poetic Metaphor (1989) is only further proof of this development. Right from the start of Metaphors We Live By, Lakoff and Johnson, while reflecting on traditional theories, set their ideas straight and set the tone for what is to come:

“Metaphor is for most people a device of the poetic imagination and the rhetorical flourish – a matter of extraordinary rather than ordinary language. Moreover, metaphor is typically viewed as characteristic of language alone, a matter of words rather than thought or action. For this reason, most people think they can get along perfectly well without metaphor. We have found, on the contrary, that metaphor is pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought and action. Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature.”

(Lakoff & Johnson, 1980, p. 3)

The thesis of metaphor as a fundamental aspect in terms of how things/ideas/concepts are understood or concretized has been mentioned a number of times before. The goal of Lakoff’s and Johnson’s work is now to proof that the conceptual system of humans is indeed of metaphorical nature. This, in turn, would proof that metaphor is an important concept in “thought and action” (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980, p. 3). In this respect, Lakoff and Johnson turn to the following explanation: In comparison to the physical part, the non-physical part the human being is not as clear bounded. Therefore, Lakoff and Johnson are of the opinion that “[...] we typically conceptualize the nonphysical in terms of the physical – that is, we conceptualize the less clearly delineated in terms of the more clearly delineated” (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980, p. 59). As briefly hinted at and referred to in that quote, Johnson’s and Lakoff’s theory is based on conceptualization. Within that theory, metaphors are referred to as conceptual metaphors. Another important term coined by the two professors is the conceptual domain. The relationship between the aforementioned conceptual domains and conceptual metaphors is explained in the following way:

“CONCEPTUAL DOMAIN (A) IS CONCEPTUAL DOMAIN (B), which is what is called a conceptual metaphor. A conceptual metaphor consists of two conceptual domains, in which on domain is understood in terms of another. A conceptual domain is any coherent organization of experience. Thus, for example, we have coherently organized knowledge about journeys that we rely on in understanding life. […] The two domains that participate in conceptual metaphor have special names. The conceptual domain from which we draw metaphorical expressions to understand another conceptual domain is called source domain, while the conceptual domain that is understood this way is the target domain.”

(Kövecses, 2002, p. 4)


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Metaphors We Drill By?
An Analysis of the Metaphors Used in the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Discourse
Technical University of Chemnitz
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Die Arbeit beinhaltet eine 7-seitige Deutsche Zusammenfassung.
Metapher, Metaphors, BP, Oil Spill, Ölkrise, Deepwater Horizon, Metaphern, Conceptual Metaphors, Lakoff, Johnson, Black, Richards
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Cristhian Welter (Author), 2010, Metaphors We Drill By?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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