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Shvoong Home>Arts & Humanities>Language, Cognition and Metaphor Summary

Language, Cognition and Metaphor

Article Summary   by:TsingHua     Original Author: MODERN FOREIGN LANGUAGES
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The history of mankind is a cognitive process of understanding the world, objective and subjective No one would query the unique role played by the mental activities of the human brain If the discovery of fire and the making of tools were the earliest flashes of human intellect, the use of linguistic signs was one more epoch making invention of our forefathers This enabled our ancestors to pass on their accumulated knowledge from one generation to another When the linguistic signs developed from speech to writing, man entered the real stage of civilization Language served as a bridge between the world and cognition How could we use language to know the world effectively? Martinet's double articulation theory gave us a satisfactory answer in the sense that multiple meaning could be expressed by infinite combinations of sounds and monemes As for the relation between verbal signs and meaning, it is the categorization theory and the subsequent prototype theory that impart the symbolic function to language However, this is merely a picture of static depiction; a particular ideational category is realized by a particular linguistic sign In fact, the practical situation is much more complex as the world has been changing, and our range of cognition has been extending and deepening Consequently, the original categories could no longer reflect the new changing world Where do the new categories and new concepts come from? In the meantime, how could the original linguistic signs represent those new categories and new concepts we are now familiar with? It has been proved that the polysemy and novelty of linguistic signs benefit from the creation of metaphors, which are conventional and omnipresent in human life That is to say, the traditional recognition of seeing metaphors merely as a rhetorical device is no longer valid The catalyst leading to linguistic change is metaphorization Language users metaphorize the meaning of an expression in one domain as one in another However, it is now understood that linguistic metaphorization does not stand by itself It is a reflection of conceptual metaphorization
as observed by Lakoff and Johnson The conventional expressions we are familiar with today are actually the sedimentation of conceptual metaphors in the past Thus, the metaphors of the former generation became the conventional representation of the later generation There are several approaches to account for the distinction between non metaphor and metaphor, such as the tension theory, the controversion theory, the deviance theory, and the semantic anomaly theory So far consensus has not been reached Since linguistic metaphorization results from conceptual metaphorization, it follows that it is necessary to clarify the nature of conceptual metaphorization How is metaphor produced? How is it understood? How is it verified? It is now understood that metaphor production and comprehension are determined by language users' experience and imagination, which further relate to language users' long term memory, age and environments There is a deeper and more important relation between metaphor and cognition Metaphor is no longer a passive process of realizing our ever enlarging knowledge It plays an active role in helping us form new knowledge and know the objective world deeper and better Various disciplines of natural sciences and social sciences have already kept an eye upon the findings of other disciplines by way of metaphorization For instance, the notion of “virus” in medical science is now metaphorized into computer science The notion of superhighway in the sector of communications is now metaphrized as information highway in information science Because of this, scientists have drawn our attention to the importance of metaphoriation, which can guide and develop various disciplines in the 21st century
Published: October 30, 1997   
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