Mapping Metaphor

This is the last post before a festive break. According to WordPress it is the 100th post, and that is a notable number, but since I have done some self-congratulation quite recently, I won’t say any more about that. Next year will be action-packed, because Trends in Cognitive Sciences has been full of good stuff recently: some old-favourite themes (olfactory language, turn-taking, decision-making, consciousness), and some new ones (neuroticism, cognitive slowness, false memory, moral perception).
      As a parting gift, I will bring to your attention — perhaps you know about it already — the Mapping Metaphor project at Glasgow. It’s in progress here. This has the impressive aim of providing ‘an overall picture of metaphor within a language’; in fact, sort of, two languages, as both English and Old English are covered. The grand plan is to use the recently created Historical Thesaurus of English to show all the ways in which words are used metaphorically. The inspiration comes partly from Lakoff and Johnson’s work on conceptual metaphor, so the idea is to show not only the transferred uses of words, but also the patterns of thought in Anglophone culture.
      My brief tour suggests that the word-lists, organised chronologically, might be very suggestive in showing how different words from one domain (e.g. chemistry) have been put to work in another (e.g. emotion). For a literary critic, they might act as as ground against which to assess whether an instance in a poem is more or less innovative. It would be interesting to delve more deeply into their categories of ‘metaphor strength’, and to think more about ‘metaphor direction’, i.e. whether metaphorical uses move only from Domain A to Domain B; I wonder if some of the possible contours in the Map have been (perhaps necessarily) flattened out.
      I’m not really doing metaphor at the moment, except inasmuch as we’re all always doing metaphor, so I won’t be unfolding many of the possibilities in the near future. It’d be nice to come back to it some time, or to hear from any readers who have given it more of a try.

E-mail me at rtrl100[at]cam.ac.uk

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