The Use of Metaphors in Textproduction

Cognitive, Analytical and Creative Metaphors in Use

Essay, 2014
18 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents


2.The Concept of Metaphors

3.Conventional Metaphors

4.Creative Metaphors

5.The Use and Meaning of (Creative) Metaphors in Literature and Poetry

6.Example Analysis The Sound of Silence




The broad field of metaphors and their function and usage in language has given rise to a noticeable amount of investigations and research in the past. Although many interesting theses and insights have already been found, still many areas are not yet examined well enough. Metaphors are subject of our everyday lives and language use. They appear in various versions which are classified differently, for example conventional and novel metaphors, which will be an important aspect this essay shall deal with.

“The essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another“ (Ritchie, 2013, p.68). Therefore, our use of metaphors often happens unconsciously and without us being aware of them, as would, for example, be the case with conventional metaphors. In poetry and literature, on the other hand, creative metaphors are commonly used, which are argued to belong to a different class of metaphors but in many cases also tend to be based on conventional metaphors or familiar metaphorical mappings.

In this essay, the structure, traits and usage of conventional and creative metaphors shall be compared and discussed. Therefore, a preceding overview about the background and function of metaphors as well as the definition and development of conceptual metaphors is necessary. The focus of this essay will be the use and appliance of metaphors in poetry and literature, which will be exemplified in an analysis of the song The Sound of Silence by Simon & Garfunkel. In a short conclusion at the end of the essay, all important insights shall be summarised.

2. The concept of Metaphors

Fundamental assumptions concerning the concept of metaphors have been formulated by Lakoff and Johnson, who stated that metaphors can be found not only in language, but are a part of everyday life and existent in all processes of thinking and acting. Furthermore, these human processes would be naturally metaphorical (Knowles & Moon, 2006).

The two components that conceptual metaphors are built upon are the target domain and the source domain. While the first one refers to the concept area the metaphor is meant to describe, the latter one expresses the concept area that the comparison is based on. Looking at the metaphorical expression Passion is Heat, for instance, passion would be the target domain that needs to be depicted for a better understanding, while heat is the source domain that is used to help illustrating the concept of passion. According to Lakoff and Johnson (1980), our conceptual system is largely metaphorical in defining our everyday realities, so as to help us understand abstract concepts like time, ideas or emotion by defining them metaphorically in more concrete terms or concepts, for instance food or objects.

To understand a metaphor, the reader or hearer must be aware of the nonliteral meaning of the utterance and thus be able to interpret the seemingly illogical or meaningless utterance in the respective context. It usually happens automatically, as studies have shown that literal and metaphorical meanings seem to be processed equally quickly. This, however only applies if the metaphors are apt. Furthermore, it is necessary to differentiate between metaphors and similes. While similes obviously compare two things with one another by using the preposition like, a metaphor compares two things without this indicator for the nonliteral meaning of the statement. The two are not interchangeable, as they are either subtly or significantly, but always systematically different (Glucksberg, 2008). Furthermore, a simile is understood as a weaker and more distant form of metaphor, as a comparison is rather alleviative compared to a metaphorical declaration (Nacey, 2013). A survey in which people were asked if they preferred novel and conventional metaphoric assertions either in metaphor or simile form, showed that conventional metaphors were preferred in metaphor form while novel ones were preferred in similes. Moreover, the latter was also declared to be understood more quickly if expressed as a simile (Glucksberg, 2008).

To understand conceptual metaphors and their status and function in language, it is essential to be familiar with the Conceptual Metaphor Theory, abbreviated CMT, by Lakoff and Johnson, which explains how we are able to understand metaphorical expressions and in which ways these are based on underlying conceptual relationships of the words and phrases connected. This can be seen from the following example: The expression Sally is a block of ice refers to the underlying relationship to which we mentally ascribe emotions and physical temperature, resulting in concepts such as Emotion is Warmth or Passion is Heat. Such conceptual metaphors are embodied, which means they are based on a repeatedly experienced conjunction of an abstract concept (emotion/passion) and a physical sensation (warmth/heat) (Ritchie, 2013).

Inspired by Lakoffs assumptions and to prove that metaphorical concepts come naturally to mind, Tseng et al. (2005) carried out an interesting study to see if people’s word choices can be influenced by the unconscious activation of the metaphorical source domain in the context of which the word is used. As the word happiness often appears in the metaphorical mapping Happiness Is Searched For, the word joy on the contrary is more likely to appear in the metaphorical mapping Joy Fills A Container, although joy and happiness in many contexts can be synonyms for the same feeling. Several test persons, who were either drinking something or looking for something, were asked to ascribe the word joy or happiness to a smiling woman in a picture shown to them. After comparing their answers to the answers of persons who had been asked in a neutral situation, Tseng et al. discovered, that persons, who had been in the situation of looking for something, indeed considerably more often chose the word happiness. However, the process of drinking did not seem to have a noticeable influence on the word choice.

Sometimes the basis for embodied conceptual metaphors is already conveyed in childhood, when children experience, for example, love and affection with close body contact of their mother and the feeling of being kept warm. This makes it natural to develop such metaphorical concepts in language without particularly noticing them when they are used. However, the CMT states that most abstract concepts we have in mind are not based on direct physical experience, but on “conceptual metaphors that originate in experienced correlations with (...) direct physical experiences and the “embodied” concepts associated with them” (Richie, 2013, p.70). There are also further metaphorical concepts that we develop quite early; More Is Up, for instance, can originate from the experience that the more blocks a child uses, the higher his tower will get, or Sick is Down (“feeling low”), which can be explained by learning that you have to lie down when feeling sick. Our capability of understanding metaphorical expressions depends on our cultural sensitivity as well as on our linguistic competence (Knowles/Moon, 2006). As primary conceptual metaphors derive from human physiology and experience, many metaphors seem to be similar in different countries and languages that, however, share similar lifestyle and values, while other metaphors are more specific and culture-related (Ritchie, 2013).

Nevertheless, CMT also met with criticism. For example, it was argued that the underlying mappings of metaphors may not always be unitary, but can also be ambiguous and may be interpreted differently by people, based on individual experiences. Furthermore, some metaphors could be interpreted by just their semantic connections and would be based on relationships among words instead of direct and personal experiences. However, much evidence for several claims of the CMT has been adduced so far (ibid.). A further theory expanding on CMT is the Conceptual Integration Theory, which adds a third domain or namely a ‘space’ to the concept of metaphors, “consisting of a blend of associations which the recipient has for each of the metaphor’s two domains” and being the space “where the meaning of the metaphor emerges” (Nacey, 2013, p.16).

According to Bowdle & Gentner (2005), the processing of metaphor can be differentiated by two options, namely comparison or categorization. While novel metaphors would “trigger a search for an appropriate comparison”, conventional metaphors, that are already familiar, would “involve categorization or sense retrieval rather than sense creation” (Nacey, 2013, p. 16). This aspect will be taken up again later in the more detailed definitions of creative and conventional metaphors.

Furthermore it is important to distinguish between conceptual and linguistic metaphors. While the first ones help us to understand our reality and to structure our thoughts, the latter are their reflection in language and linguistic implementation (Nacey, 2013).

The Relevance Theory is a previous and primarily pragmatic approach of metaphors, even though coinciding with CMT in many aspects. Simply said, something is considered relevant when it provides new information which helps a person to answer questions or understand circumstances that matter to him. According to the Relevance Theory, it is only worth dealing with an input if it provides a positive effect or experience, and that it is only worth dealing with input that is “more relevant than any alternative input available to us at that time” (Wilson/Sperber, 2004, p.609). Furthermore, each proposition must be linguistically encoded and put into the right context as well as be interpreted the right way, which may be difficult or also ambiguous when, for instance, metaphors or irony are included. Therefore, it is claimed that a speaker would choose the simplest possible way to convey his message and the hearer should accept the first interpretation that satisfies him and assume that it corresponds with the speaker’s intentions (ibid.). Thus, an utterance can also be referred to as “an interpretative expression of a thought of a speaker” (Carston/Uchida, 1998, pp.91).

In regard to metaphors, Relevance Theory characterises them as a sort of loose talk, meaning the propositional form of the speaker’s thought as well as the propositional form of his utterance are not exactly the same, but share some logical properties. The search for optimal relevance leads a speaker to make a true enough, but maybe not one hundred percent exact statement in daily situations, and a hearer to acknowledge this fact and accept the answer without assuming it is necessarily to be taken literally (ibid.). Therefore, Relevance Theory differs from CMT mainly by focussing only on inferential procedures instead of considering cognitive mappings across conceptual domains, which is a central aspect of CMT.

Having introduced the concept of metaphors and their function in language use, the next chapters shall elaborate on the different categories of conventional and creative metaphors before analysing their meaning in poetry and literary language use.

3. Conventional Metaphors

The conventionality of metaphors, or rather how well established a metaphor is in everyday language use, is a major factor concerning the classification of metaphors. This applies to conceptual as well as to linguistic metaphors. Argument Is War or Life Is A Journey are both examples of conceptual conventional metaphors that are “deeply entrenched ways of thinking about or understanding an abstract domain”, while linguistic expressions, on the other hand, represent well worn “ways of talking about abstract domains” (Kövecses, 2002 p.30). It is claimed that for the conventionality of a metaphor it is decisive how basic and embodied the metaphorical conceptualisation is (Handl, 2011). The following figure depicts comprehensibly how metaphors can be classified (ibid., p.77):

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten1

Bowdle and Gentner (2005) describe the process of conventualisation as being “essentially one of a base term acquiring a domain-general meaning” (p.198). These reinforce over time and are the reason for metaphors like Time Is Money or Knowledge is Power, which we also refer to as quotes or wisdoms, having become fundamentally conventional meanwhile, so that they come naturally to mind and are connected to or even influence our lifestyles. What makes them so natural we do not even notice them as being metaphors is, that they are grounded in common personal experiences. Studies showed that conventional metaphors are just as quickly understood as literal categorizations or comparisons, while novel figurative metaphors take longer to comprehend (Bowdle/Gentner, 2005).


1 Modified Metaphors denote an advanced stage of novel metaphors. They are based on conventional mappings which were extended and varied – thus, they are familiar but not yet conventionalised and less frequent (Handl, 2011, p.77)

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The Use of Metaphors in Textproduction
Cognitive, Analytical and Creative Metaphors in Use
University of Hildesheim
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ISBN (eBook)
Die vorliegende Hausarbeit beschäftigt sich mit den Eigenschaften verschiedener Metaphern (Creative, Analytical und Conventional) und ihrer Anwendung in Literatur und Poesie. Als Beisiel wird das Lied The Sound of Silence von Simon & Garfunkel entsprechend analysiert.
metaphors, textproduction, cognitive, analytical, creative
Quote paper
Lisa Drees (Author), 2014, The Use of Metaphors in Textproduction, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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