Metaphor and Other Modes of Meaning Extension
A key mechanism of metaphorical extension is the suppression of central features or conceptual and structural constraints in a usually concrete and literal source meaning. It involves a selective restructuring of the content and will foreground features that tend to be peripheral, or even just connotative, in the source.
But there are also meaning extensions that cannot be considered figurative, even if this – as far as I know – has not been discussed much in semantics literature. (Cf. Alm-Arvius 1993:27f) This talk will exemplify and analyse non-metaphorical extensions with similar or at least comparable semantic changes, and compare them with metaphors. In this way metaphorical extension can be positioned within a wider spectrum of semantic processes that seem to be based on or proceed from literal sources by partial suppression and restructuring of their contents. This ought to provide us with more general insights into meaning variation and its inter-relation with cognitive and behavioural capacities in humans that appear crucial for what we are and how we construct and maintain conceptual structures and cultural practices.
The analytical dimensions we will look at are
- the contrast between semantic contents – literal or metaphorical – that describe phenomena in the real world and those that deal with things in some merely imaginary situation (cf. other possible worlds)
- the (related) contrast between different types of world views, in particular pre-scientific, religiously coloured world views and the kind of world view that arose with the enlightenment and the development of modern science
- the contrasts between factually oriented descriptions, metaphors connected with them, and emotive outbursts
Using these contrastive dimensions as our distinctive criteria, we can analyse the difference between meanings in examples like the following.
1) Inanimate things like walls cannot see and hear. (Factual claim)
These walls can see and hear. (Metaphorical, about a real-world situation)
If these walls could see and hear … (About a conceivable but merely imaginary situation)
2) Horses cannot fly. (Factual claim)
The horse flew faster than the wind. (Metaphorical, if used about a real-world situation)
We would like to see that horse develop wings and fly. (Metaphorical? Or about a merely imaginary situation?)
A pegasus is a horse with wings that can fly. (A mythological creature)
3) That woman is a witch. (Are there witches in the real world, or should this use of witch be understood metaphorically? Cf. That woman is like a witch.)
4) We stepped into a pile of dog shit. (Literal sense; cf. dirt or excrement)
The Internet is shit. (Metaphorical)
Oh shit! (Exclamation)
Comparative analyses of such examples should, for instance, help us to enquire into how logico-empirical conceptions will be formed, how metaphors help us to deal with actual phenomena, how myths are created and live on, or why emotions have commonly been described as abstract, and in need of metaphorical representation, in spite of their direct experiential or bodily character.