Sunday, 28 December 2014

What is so special about metaphor in literature?

Having said that metaphor is an absolutely everyday phenomenon, a conceptual and linguistic tool that we all use all the time (compare here), we are now faced with the question of what is special about metaphor in literary language, and in particular, in poetry. Compare the following examples of the LIFE IS A JOURNEY conceptual metaphor. Sentences 1-7 sound unremarkable and "unpoetic", while sentences 8-9 definitely sound dramatic and imaginative.   
  1. He had a head start in life.
  2. Look how far we've come.
  3. We're at a crossroads.
  4. We can't turn back now.
  5. He strayed from the path.
  6. He's gone off in the wrong direction. 
  7. I'm lost.
  8. Stop the world. I want to get off.
  9. Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.

    (Robert Frost “The Road Not Taken”)

LIFE IS A JOURNEY: Stop the world I want to get off! (phot. Andy Marshall)

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Where is the meaning hidden?

As linguistics describes it, language has two main functions: the symbolic one and the interactive one. The symbolic function of language is to express thoughts and ideas by using symbols or bits of language. They can be spoken if you say /kæt/, written if you write [cat] or signed (in a sign language). The interactive function of language is to communicate our thoughts and ideas to other people, for example we ask or tell them to do things (Shut the door please!), we manipulate others to achieve our goals (I'll give you a candy if you bring me a Coke), we perform certain social activities by using language (I now pronounce you husband and wife). This way, words gain the power to alter reality: a speech act makes things happen.

I pronounce you husband and wife - the use of language which makes things happen (scene from Breaking Dawn)

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Sugarless and sugarfree - why it's not the same

Suffixes such as -less and -free are called privative suffixes (from the Latin word for "deprive of"), so they basically mean "without". But is a sugarfree product the same as a sugarless one? Definitively not  (see Górska 1994). 

If you say that a product is sugarfree, what you mean is that it is supposed to be without sugar, and you see this fact as positive. If you say that a product is sugarless, the implication is that it should contain sugar but it does not. So sugarfree tea is expected to be without sugar, while sugarless tea is somewhat disappointing, as we like it sweet.

A product which is fat-free, sugar-free and gluten-free. The use of the suffix -free builds a positive image of the product - it is supposed to be without ingredients considered to be unhealthy. On the other hand, the logo of the company says sugarless, though products are consistently described  as sugar-free on the company's website.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Communication is like a journey

Understanding other people and making yourself understood is not a simple matter at all. You may say that words are like signposts by the road which two (or more) interlocutors follow along. Words show the general direction but it depends on people’s linguistic and non-linguistic knowledge how they interpret the words and which way they choose. Misinterpretations lead to dead ends, while a correct interpretation takes travellers one step further on their journey to understanding each other.

Figure 1: Conceptual metaphor COMMUNICATION IS A JOURNEY

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Image schemas as basic conceptual units

There are certain very basic concepts which come from our bodily experience of the physical world, such as the notions of up and down, front and back, in and out. Notice, however, that they are used not only to describe spatial relationships in the physical environment, but also to express certain abstract notions. 

For example, when someone says that they are feeling down, we understand they are unhappy or sad, as in He's been feeling very down since his wife went away (examples after Macmillan). Feeling down means feeling unhappy - this is the UNHAPPY IS DOWN / BAD IS DOWN conceptual metaphor.

Thumbs up, thumbs down illustrating the conceptual metaphors: HAPPY IS UP, GOOD IS UP, UNHAPPY IS DOWN, BAD IS DOWN (from The Dating Monologues blog)

On the other hand, when we hear that things are up and up, we understand that the situation is good, as in Things are on the up and up – we're doing better each year. Being up means being good - this is the GOOD IS UP conceptual metaphor.