METAPHOR AS INTELLECTUAL HISTORY: CONCEPTUAL CATEGORIES UNDERLYING FIGURATIVE USAGE IN AMERICAN ENGLISH FROM 1675-1975
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The present analysis
examined historical trends in figurative usage as revealed in the coding of
1,882 figures of speech derived from selections produced by 24 different
American authors writing in the period from 1675 to 1975. Results indicated
that different issues served as centres for metaphoric activity in each of the
six 50-year periods considered, and that these concerns could be related to
significant issues and events in American history. Results also revealed that
different vehicles were used to make these issues metaphorical thereby
supporting the view that an analysis of figurative language provides insights
not only into issues considered problematic but also into issues considered
well-known in specific historical eras. Implications for a general theory of
metaphor were also derived from present results, particularly insofar as they
suggest that metaphoric category-crossings defy logical analysis and can best
be understood in terms of the psycholinguislic and historical situation of the
speaker or writer. Finally, present results were also discussed in terms of
Ullmann’s universal ‘laws’ of metaphoric transfer where they were seen as
providing reasonable support for two of these principles (anthropomorphization
and concretization) and lesser support for the remaining two (synaesthesia and
animal reference). 4 In the Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960, John F. Kennedy
concluded his opening remarks by noting that The question is whether the world
… will move in the direction of freedom … or … in the direction of slavery … I
think it’s time America started moving again.’ Throughout all of his opening
statement Kennedy had contrasted ‘moving forward’ with ‘standing still and, not
surprisingly, Richard Nixon began his response to Kennedy’s remarks by noting
There is no question but… this nation cannot stand still because we are in a
deadly competition … We’re ahead in this competition as Senator Kennedy has
implied, Linguistics 19 (1981), 911-935. 0024-3949/81/0019-0911 $2.00 © Mouton
Publishers 912 M. K. Smith, H. R. Pollio and M. K. Pitts but when yoif re in a
race the only way to stay ahead is to move ahead. (Cited in Pollio, Barlow,
Fine and Pollio, 1977: 14) While it is interesting to note that Kennedy used
the concept of movement only in a very general sense, Nixon’s use of a race
metaphor (in which movement is combined with competition) seems quite revealing
in the light of what we now know about his subsequent actions as president. The
metaphor of a race not only reiterated Kennedy’s concern for change; it also
introduced Nixon’s use of athletic metaphors for political actions, and through
them, his implicit concerns about Opponents’ and “winning and losing’. Although
other information could be gleaned from an analysis of figurative language in
the Kennedy-Nixon debates, a more crucial point for the study of metaphor would
seem to be that the specific metaphoric vehicle (race) used to capture a
particular idea (international relations) tells a good deal of what Nixon saw
as an important issue in the campaign and how he chose to express it. While it
may be going too far to see a race metaphor as projective of Nixon’s general
view of the world, it does not seem to be going too far to feel that unique
insights about a speaker may be had by considering the specific images used to
convey a difficult or emotional idea. Politics, however, is not the only domain
in which metaphors express important ideas in a linguistically innovative way.
Within more highly specialised domains, such as literature or science,
metaphors not only name (or rename) pre-existing events or objects, they often
serve to create new concepts as well. In poetry, for example, metaphors have
been described as creating imaginary worlds (Ricoeur, 1977) whereas in science
they have been conceptualized as leading to the development of a new
theoretical orientation or model (Cassirer, 1946; Schon, 1963). In both domains
the use of poetic language frequently signals the opening moments of a new or
changed concept of reality brought about by a unique blending of the
possibilities and ambiguities inherent in language. The hypothesis that
metaphor and other figures of speech occur in the creating and/or describing
phase of a new idea or concept is not a new one. Sperber, as long ago as 1930,
noted that topics which produce intense feelings or in some sense are
problematic become ‘centers of metaphoric attraction’. When this occurs,
concepts and terminology from fields or domains thought to be more familiar or
better understood are used to clarify the newly problematic subject.
Alternatively, new topics or events, when experienced as sufficiently well
understood, may themselves come to serve as metaphoric vehicles for areas still
considered problematic. Sperber’s Law, as this insight has come to be called,
thus suggests that Metaphor as intellectual history 913 the dominant concerns
of an era may be reflected in its major metaphors and that these metaphors
direct and constrain the course of intellectual analysis in that and subsequent
historical periods. Indeed, Schon (1963) has gone so far as to propose that one
way in which to understand the implicit intellectual forces shaping concepts in
a particular historical period is to examine the metaphors used to express such
concepts in the first place. On this basis, an analysis of metaphors may
provide the ingredients for an intellectual history of a particular era or,
more narrowly, of a particular group of concepts. To pursue this possibility in
an empirically rigorous way two issues, one conceptual and one methodological,
must be confronted. Conceptually, it is necessary to describe the nature of
linguistic constraint operating on metaphoric activity. Although this issue has
not been dealt with extensively, Ullmann (1962) has suggested metaphor follows
one or more of four universal laws of semantic transfer: anthropomorphization;
from abstract to concrete; from animals to other objects, events and/or people;
and, finally, synaesthesia. Each of these tendencies is seen as significant in
all language families and, therefore, must serve to constrain specific
metaphoric transfers predicted on the basis of more concept-oriented analyses
such as those suggested by Sperber and Schon. In our earlier example derived
from the Kennedy-Nixon debates, Ullmann most likely would suggest that the
abstract notion of ‘international relations’ was made metaphorically concrete
through the vehicle of a race\ Methodologically, to come now to the second
critical issue, it is necessary to develop a reasonably extensive corpus of
novel metaphoric exemplars (covering a sufficiently extensive segment of
history) and then code these exemplars into relatively explicit and reliable
conceptual categories before meaningful statements can be made about the
relationship of metaphoric topics to their instantiating vehicles. For purposes
of the present analysis, an attempt was made to select representative figures
used by major American writers in six different 50-year periods of U.S. history
beginning in 1675 and ending in 1975. Once this collection was assembled,
individual figures were analysed in terms of the specific subjects dealt with
metaphorically as well as in terms of the specific vehicles us.ed to represent
them. Within the context of this analysis, four specific questions were
considered: 1. Could a classification system be developed that was sufficiently
comprehensive as to encompass the variety of figurative subjects and vehicles
sampled, and would this system relate to more traditional taxonomies (such as
Ullmann’s) used in accounting for semantic change based on metaphoric transfer?
914 M. K. Smith, H. R. Pol Ho and M. K. Pitts 2. Would the occurrence of
specific vehicle domains show systematic variations across different historical
periods thereby permitting an evaluation of the role played by implicit
metaphors in shaping thought? 3. Would the occurrence of specific topic
domains, i.e. subjects, show systematic changes across various historical
periods thereby permitting an evaluation of Sperber’s Law? 4. Would
regularities occur in the specific vehicle and topic categories paired so as to
support the hypothesis of universal rules for metaphoric transfer such as those
proposed by Ullmann (1962)?
METAPHOR AS INTELLECTUAL HISTORY: CONCEPTUAL CATEGORIES UNDERLYING FIGURATIVE USAGE IN AMERICAN ENGLISH FROM 1675-1975
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