Cognitive metaphor as a deeply Ingrained device of computer and internet language

Bachelor Thesis, 2006

56 Pages, Grade: A




Chapter One
Traditional versus cognitive view of metaphor
1.1. Etymology and aspects of metaphor
1.2. The Cognitive Linguistics view of the conceptual metaphor

Chapter Two
Metaphor in the computer and Internet language




Computers and the Internet are gradually becoming an increasingly inherent part of human life worldwide. Generally people appreciate the existence of computers and the Internet as they facilitate not only work but almost every activity of everyday life (education, leisure, system of communication, relationships). According to Lakoff and Johnson – theoreticians of cognitive metaphor, authors of athought-provoking book entitled “Metaphors We Live By”(1980), which the author of this thesis will frequently refer to - “ in most of the little things we do every day, we simply think and act more or less automatically along certain lines”. For this reason, the computer and Internet language is learned more or less automatically.

In fact, the computer and the Internet domains have been recently formed and as wholly new concepts in our cognition they involve inter alia the development of alanguage that makes them user-friendly to a lay person. The term “user-friendly” conveys a widespread assumption which is the basis of all graphical user interfaces, on-line help systems, menu-driven programs, etc. The cognitive metaphor appears to be the device that accomplishes this task successfully. However, Alan Cooper – chairman and founder of a pioneering consulting company “Cooper”, which is “committed to creating friendlier, more useful digital products, services, and business processes’’[1] - in his article The Myth of Metaphor, originally published in Visual Basic Programmer’s Journal (1995)[2], questions the idea of basing a user interface design on a metaphor. He points out that such an approach may turn out to be unhelpful or even harmful. In his opinion the major problem is that by invoking old technology,

[] metaphors firmly nail our conceptual feet to the ground, forever limiting the power of our software. They have a host of other problems as well, including the simple fact that there aren't enough metaphors to go around, they don't scale well, and the ability of users to recognize them is questionable”.

A. Cooper (1995)

This statement may cause confusion for every user of computers and theInternet. The reason is that the moment we switch on our workstation we enter aworld where notions that we know from tangible world i.e. a folder, a menu or a window function in a metaphorical sense. What is more, we get accustomed to thenew application of those notions more or less intuitively. Hence one may ask what a computer interface would look like if its designers had not implemented metaphor as a device aimed in their assumption to enhance the cognitive process of a user. It is necessary to point out that it will not be the aim of the author of the present thesis to judge the correctness, the quality or the relevance of already employed metaphors in the computer and Internet environment but to demonstrate their factual existence and usage as well as to analyze selected examples by applying the theory of cognitive metaphor.

The first chapter contains the outline of the contemporary cognitive view on the conceptual metaphor and gives the theoretical background to the practical analyses presented in the second chapter. In order to form a linguistic basis for the analytical part of the thesis, the author has thoroughly examined the available resources, namely Apple and Microsoft graphical user interface (GUI), the Internet data bases on computer science and cyberspace, as well as publications (press, guidebooks) concerning the above-mentioned domains. A detailed list of materials used by the author is provided in the part entitled Resources.


1. Traditional versus cognitive view of metaphor

1.1. Etymology and aspects of metaphor

The word “metaphor” originates from the Greek “metaphora” meaning literally to “transfer”.[3] However, as Condon in his Doctoral Thesis on Metaphor in the Human-Computer Interface (1999) implies, this is the second meaning of “metaphor” mentioned by Aristotle in his Poetics, which has been adopted by English and other European languages as follows: “Metaphor is the transport to one thing of a name which designates another”.[4]

Dictionary definitions of metaphor identify it frequently as a ‘figure of speech’. However, most linguists agree that metaphor is rather an example of a trope and tropes are more than figures of speech, following Richards' definition:

“ The traditional theory ... made metaphor seem to be a verbal matter, a

shifting and displacement of words, whereas fundamentally it is a

borrowing between an intercourse of thoughts, a transaction between

contexts. Thought is metaphoric, and proceeds by comparison, and the

metaphors of language derive therefrom.”

A.I. Richards (1936)

Richards formulated the ‘interaction theory’ of metaphor where he underlines the interaction (tension) between the context and the metaphorical expression used therein. In his theory, he introduced a terminology for the components of a metaphor consisting of four major notions:

Tenor - the original concept, that is, the subject to which attributes are ascribed,

Vehicle - the second concept 'transported' to modify or transform the tenor, that is, the subject from which the attributed are borrowed.

Ground – the set of attributes common to the tenor and the vehicle

Tension – the effort requisite to cover the discrepancy between the tenor and the vehicle.

As Ungerer and Schmid (1996) remarked, Richards’ theory results from a‘comparison’ or ‘interaction’ view of metaphor. Views of Richards and of some other researchers such as Monroe Beardsley, Nelson Goodman or Paul Henle, became an inspiration for Max Black (1962) to develop the thesis on the cognitive aspects of metaphor.

However, the above information is mentioned only to confirm the fact that the phenomenon of metaphor had already been perceived as a complex one, hence worth in-depth analysis, before it became a subject of interest of cognitive linguists.

The following sub-chapter presents the outline of cognitive linguistic aspect of metaphor, which is to be considered as a proper theoretical basis for the analytical chapter of this paper.

1.2. The Cognitive Linguistics view of the conceptual metaphor

Cognitive Linguistics is an approach to the study of language that dates from the late seventies. Cognitivists perceive language as a product of our conceptualization and perception of the world which we experience (Ungerer & Schmid 1996). One of the results of cognitive language examination is the theory of metaphor first provided and described in the book ‘Metaphors We Live By’ (1980) written by Mark Johnson and George Lakoff. According to the authors, metaphor is mostly understood as a distinct language device that belongs rather to the world of literature and rhetorics than to the everyday speech. In addition, Lakoff and Johnson suggest that an average person reckons he or she does not need to use metaphors to communicate well. However, the cognitive studies of language prove that metaphor is omnipresent not only in the day to day language but also in our thought and action.

It is necessary here to repeat after Ungerer and Schmid (1996) that cognitive linguists concur that the way we articulate our ideas in everyday language reflects our shared experience of the world.

“ Since communication is based on the same conceptual system that we use in thinking and acting, language is an important source of evidence for what that system is like.” (Lakoff & Johnson 1980: 3) What is more, Lakoff and Johnson imply that “metaphors as linguistic expressions are possible precisely because there are metaphors in a person's conceptual system. “ (ibid p.6) Hence authors recognize metaphor as a metaphorical concept. All these assumptions are evidenced by a number of examples taken from our everyday language, some of which will be cited hereunder. They make a reader aware that our conceptual structure of regarding the reality we live in is based mainly on metaphor, which is reflected in metaphorical expressions present in our language.

According to the definition given by Kövecses (2002: 4), cognitive metaphor is “understanding one conceptual domain in terms of another conceptual domain”. By a conceptual domain Kövecses (ibid p. 4) means “any coherent organization of experience.” A model representation of a conceptual metaphor can be the following:


In practice, an expression ARGUMENT IS WAR does not exist in everyday language in such a version, yet it points in a conceptual manner to the linguistic metaphorical expressions that are used by ordinary people for everyday purposes. Lakoff and Johnson (1980: 4) list exemplary phrases of an English native speaker that contain metaphorical expressions (in italics) reflecting the conceptual metaphor ARGUMENT IS WAR :

illustration not visible in this excerpt

The idea of representing metaphorical expressions in italics and the statement of conceptual metaphor in small capitals has been adopted by most cognitive linguists and will be followed throughout this paper.

In the above examples, WAR being a more clearly delineated concept is categorized as belonging to what has been specified above as a conceptual domain (B), that is, the source domain. This is where we obtain metaphorical expressions from to define and make more accessible to us the concept of ARGUMENT functioning analogically as a conceptual domain (A), that is, the target domain. Inother words, through the use of the source domain we try to comprehend the target domain (Kövecses 2002).

With reference to the example of conceptual metaphor ARGUMENT IS WAR, we can conclude after Lakoff and Johnson (1980: 5) that although “arguments and wars are different kinds of things” and involve “different kinds of actions”, the concept of argument is “partially structured, understood, performed, and talked about in terms of war.“ And this is evidenced by the metaphorical linguistic expressions.

Furthermore, Lakoff and Johnson (1980) pertinently remark that such a way of thinking, talking and having an argument is not poetic or rhetorical but common and literal. "Our conventional ways of talking about arguments presuppose ametaphor we are hardly ever conscious of." (Lakoff & Johnson 1980: 5) As this statement can be applied to all conceptual metaphors, the deeply engrained nature of metaphor in our conceptualization of the reality becomes apparent.

Kövecses (2002) asserts a significant generalization arising from conceptual metaphors which he defines as the principle of unidirectionality: “Themetaphorical process typically goes from the more concrete [concept as source] to the more abstract [concept as target] but not the other way around” (ibid p.6). He gives an exhaustive explanation of this claim as follows: “Our experiences with thephysical world serve as a natural and logical foundation for the comprehension of more abstract domains” (ibid p.6). Let us illustrate the principle of unidirectionality with some examples of statements of conceptual metaphors and some of their equivalent metaphorical linguistic expressions (Lakoff & Johnson 1980):

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Thus a logical conclusion arises that in order to facilitate our understanding of the abstract concepts of time, love, ideas we use the more concrete and better known to us concepts of money, journey, food. However, Kövecses (ibid p.25) points out that “the source and target can be reversed” which may give rise to literary or formal linguistic expressions. The author illustrates this reversibility with the examples of ANGER IS STORM and A STORM IS ANGER conceptual metaphors which are realized respectively in the following linguistic expressions: “He stormed out of the room.”, “The storm was raging for hours”.

The aspect of conceptual metaphor that is crucially important to understanding the fundamentals on which metaphorical linguistic expressions arise, are mappings. Kövecses (ibid p.6) defines mappings as “a set of systematic correspondences between the source and the target in the sense that constituent conceptual elements of B [source domain] correspond to constituent elements of A[target domain].”[5] Let us illustrate this notion with major correspondences in themetaphor LIFE IS A JOURNEY (Lakoff and Turner 1989: 3-4) that are justified by model phrases (Ungerer & Schmid 1996: 121) :

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Fig. 1. Structural mappings from JOURNEY to LIFE (Ungerer & Schmid 1996: 121)

In an appropriate context it is obvious to a reader that the phrases listed above in the right column (Fig. 1.) concern life. However, after a moment’s thought one realises that, in fact, certain words employed there are related to the idea of ajourney. Let us take for instance the sentence He knows where he is going in life, in which we can identify two constituent elements of the domain of life mapped onto two corresponding constituent elements of the domain of journey. Firstly, thepronoun he relates to a traveller; secondly, the adverb where together with theverb to go indicate the idea of a journey to a certain destination. After a similar analysis of the rest of the above sentences, we can observe a fixed set of mappings between the elements of the LIFE target domain and the JOURNEY source domain that reveals the structure of the conceptual metaphor LIFE IS A JOURNEY.

As Kövecses (2002: 9) states the knowledge of systematic mappings existing in a particular source-target pairing is mostly unconscious and brought into awareness for analytical purposes. Nonetheless, to recognize a metaphor means to recognize the mappings therein, therefore this knowledge enhances the appropriate use of a linguistic metaphorical expression, namely one that is in accordance with themappings conventionally established in a linguistic community. (ibid p. 9)

According to Lakoff and Johnson (1980) a significant property of conceptual metaphors is their ability to highlight or hide certain aspects of concepts. Moreover, this “metaphorical systematicity” (ibid p.10) correlates with the fact that conceptual metaphors give us only partial understanding of a target concept through a source concept which otherwise would mean that the two are identical. Kövecses (2002:79ff) confirms the metaphorical highlighting and hiding by presenting anumber of different source concepts through which people perceive target concept of argument:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Fig. 2. Highlighting of different aspects of ARGUMENT through different conceptual metaphors (Kövecses 2002: 80)

As Kövecses (2002) remarks, when focusing on the control aspect of anargument, we frequently pass over its content, progress, or construction aspect. In addition, it can be seen that ARGUMENT IS A BUILDING conceptual metaphor maps only a part of the source domain onto a part of the target domain. Hence arises aconclusion that mechanisms of highlighting and hiding inherent in conceptual metaphor “presuppose each other”. (ibid p.80)

A further characteristic of conceptual metaphors is entailment, which occurs when “rich additional knowledge about a source is mapped onto a target.” (Kövecses 2002: 94) The author illustrates how metaphorical entailment functions with an example of COMPLEX ABSTRACT SYSTEMS ARE PLANTS conceptual metaphor. One of the constituent mappings in this metaphor is: parts of the plant are parts of the complex system, which is realized in a phrase: “Please turn to the local branch of the organization.” Furthermore, our rich knowledge about PLANTS source domain comprises, inter alia, that plants’ growth involves their physical enlargement. And this knowledge entails a sub-metaphor A COMPLEX SYSTEM BECOMING LARGER IS A PLANT GROWING BIGGER: “Only now, 21 years since he established his distinctive women’s line, is he branching out into men’s clothing.” (Kövecses 2002: 98)

In order to systematize the knowledge of conceptual metaphors, cognitive linguists have introduced various classifications. Kövecses (2002) suggests four criteria according to which metaphors can be divided: conventionality, function, nature and level of generality of metaphor.

The first category of conventionality assesses the degree to which aconceptual metaphor is deeply-rooted in the way we recognize given concepts and how frequently its linguistic manifestations are employed by ordinary people in everyday language. Kövecses (2002: 30ff) points out here that conventional metaphors are subject to gradation, thus he introduces the scale of conventionality: on one pole of the scale we find highly conventionalized metaphors and on theopposite one – highly unconventional (novel) metaphors. As has been already stated, conceptual metaphors presented so far in this paper such as LOVE IS AJOURNEY, ARGUMENT IS WAR or IDEAS ARE FOOD are naturally and commonly used by English language speakers. Thus, they are highly conventional. Whereas, anunconventional conceptual metaphor that Lakoff and Johnson (1980: 139) see as imaginative and creative and offering us a new perspective on given concepts can be instantiated by the LOVE IS A COLLABORATIVE WORK OF ART metaphor. In order to confirm the unconventionality of this metaphor, Kövecses (2002: 32) emphasizes “that Lakoff and Johnson do not provide any metaphorical linguistic expressions to demonstrate it” probably because no relevant conventionalized expressions exist.

Taking into account the cognitive function criterion of conceptual metaphor we can define its three major types: structural, ontological, and orientational. In thecase of structural metaphors, their cognitive function consists in facilitating the comprehension of a target domain by mapping onto it the structure of a source domain. Ungerer and Schmid (1996: 123) clearly illustrate “the structuring power of metaphors” providing the structural resemblances between the two domains in ANARGUMENT IS A BATTLE metaphor together with their linguistic realizations:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Fig. 3. Equivalences in structure of ARGUMENT target domain and BATTLE source domain and examples of relevant linguistic expressions (Ungerer & Schmid 1996: 124)

In the left column (Fig. 3.) are listed structural elements that are in fact stages which a battle as well as an argument can be analogically divided into. This structural comparison clarifies how people conceptualize ARGUMENT through metaphor.


[1] May 3, 2006

[2] May 3, 2006

[3] June 7, 2006

[4] July 3, 2006

[5] An interesting point is made by Ungerer and Schmid (1996: 120) that even the mere notion of a mapping, being a significant part of the theory of metaphor, is a metaphor originating in cartography.

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Cognitive metaphor as a deeply Ingrained device of computer and internet language
Uniwersytet Marii Curie-Skłodowskiej w Lublinie  (German Studies)
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Cognitive, metaphor, computer language, internet language, cognitive metaphor
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Agnieszka Jasinska (Author), 2006, Cognitive metaphor as a deeply Ingrained device of computer and internet language, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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