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Metaphor And Metonymy In Cognitive Semantics English Language Essay

Cognitive semantics is part of the cognitive linguistics movement. Cognitive linguistics represents the slogan “linguistic knowledge is a part of general cognition”. It is a point which divides the formal and functional approaches to language. In cognitive semantics, the meaning is based on conventionalized conceptual structures. The main principles of cognitive semantics are as follows:-

Grammar is conceptualization

The conceptual structure is motivated by usage.

The ability to use language draws upon general cognitive resources and not a special language module.

Cognitive semantic theories are typically built on the argument that truth conditional semantics [meaning is based on reference and truth] is unduly limited in its account of full sentence meaning. It has sought to challenge traditional theories in two ways.

By providing an account of the meaning of sentences by going beyond truth conditional accounts.

By attempting to go beyond accounts of word meaning that appeal to necessary and sufficient conditions.

Cognitive linguistics agree with the proposal by George Lakoff and Johnson that metaphor is an essential element in our categorization of the world and our thinking process.


Metaphor has been viewed as the most important form of figurative language. There is a common idea that metaphor is somewhat like simile. But it is a compressed simile.


He fights like a lion. [ simile]

He is a lion. [metaphor]

The two concepts involved in a metaphor are referred to in various ways in the literature.

The starting point or described concept is often called the TARGET domain.

The comparison concept or the analogy is called the SOURCE domain.

In I.A Richard’s terminology the former is called the TENOR and the latter is called the VEHICLE. Both set of terms are commonly used in literature.

There are two traditional positions on the role of metaphor in language, they are as follows;-

1.Classical view.

2.Romantic view.

Classical view:-

This is so called since it can be traced back to Aristotle’s writings on metaphor. It sees metaphor as a kind of decorative addition to ordinary plain language. It also views metaphor as a rhetorical device to be used at certain times to gain certain effects. In this view metaphor is often seen as a departure from literal language.

Romantic view:-

This is so called since it is associated with eighteenth and nineteenth century romantic views of the imagination. It takes a different view of metaphor. In this view metaphor is an integral to language and thought as a way of experiencing the world. All important characteristic of cognitive semantics is the central role in thought and language assigned to metaphor. Thus cognitive semantics can be seen as an extension of the romantic view. In emphasizing the important role of metaphor in ordinary language, Lakoff and his colleagues have identified a large number of common metaphors. For example they describe one group of metaphor as SPATIAL Metaphor. For instance the many metaphors associated with an UP-DOWN orientation. They are as follows:-

Happy is up; sad is down

I’m feeling up. My spirits rose. I’m feeling down. I’m depressed.

Conscious is up; un conscious is down

Wake up. He fell asleep. He dropped off to sleep. He sank into a coma.

Virtue is up; depravity is down.

He is high minded. She has high standards. Don’t be under handed.

Features of metaphor:-






It raises the issue of the novelty of the metaphor. Some writers claimed that some metaphors have become dead metaphors. In the literal language theory this means that they have ceased to be metaphors and have passed into literal language.

Dead metaphor:-

The original sentence meaning is bypassed and the sentence acquires a new literal meaning identical with the former metaphorical meaning. This is a shift from the metaphorical utterance to the literal utterance.

Example; My sprits rose.


It refers to the way that a metaphor does not set up a single point of comparison. Here feature of the source and target domain are joined so that the metaphor may be extended. This systematicity has been an important focus in cognitive semantic views of metaphor. Lakeoff and Turner identify a systematicity in this mapping between the two concepts.

For instance:-


The person leading a life is a traveller

His purposes are destinations.

Progress is the distance travelled

Conventionalized metaphors of body parts in English:-

HEAD Of department, of state, of a flower, of a page, of a queue

FACE Of a mountain, of a watch

MOUTH Of a hole, of a cave

EYE Of a potato, of a needle

HANDS Of a watch, of an altimeter


It refers to the way that metaphors are directional. They do not set up a symmetrical comparison between two concepts, establishing points of similarity. Instead they provoke the listener to transfer feature from the source to the target.

For example:- life is a journey.

This metaphor exhibits this feature: the common, every day experience of physically moving about the earth is used to characterize the mysterious process of birth and death, and the mysterious process of ageing. This is not a necessary feature of metaphor.


Cognitivists argue that because of the presence in speakers’ minds, metaphor s exert influence over a wide range of linguistic behavior. Sweester identifies a cross linguistic metaphor MIND-AS-BODY, as when in English we speak of grasping an idea or holding a thought. Thus in English the verb SEE has two meanings:the basic principle one of perceiving with the eyes and the metaphorically extended one of understanding as in I SEE WHAT YOU MEAN. According to sweester words of seeing come to mean understanding, words of hearing to mean obeying, and words of tasting to mean choosing. Some of her examples are given below.

SEEING Understanding

HEARING Paying attention to, obeying

TASTING Choosing, expressing preferences


It reflects the traditional definition in terms of contiguity.For cognitive semantics metonymy shows many of the same features as metaphor. They are both conceptual process: both may be conventionalized: both are used to create new lexical resources in language and both show the same dependence on real- world knowledge or cognitive frames.Metonymy establishes a connection within a single domain.


PART FOR WHOLE[Synecdoche]

All hands on deck

WHOLE FOR PART[Synecdoche]

Brazil won the world cup


I don’t drink more than two bottles


She needs a glass.


His native tongue is English.


Image schemas and their extensions by metaphors have been used to describe a number of areas of language which displays polysemy. It can be explained by using English prepositions and modal verbs. For example the English preposition in and over can be used in a number of related but different ways.

The water IN the vase

The crack in the vase

The crack in the surface

The bird in the tree

The nail in the box

The pearl in the bowl

The bird in the field.

It is easy to see the different relationship between the entity and the container in these examples. The water is likely to be entirely contained in the vase in e.g 1 but the pear in e.g.6 could easily be sitting on top of a pile of fruit.

There are two important points to make about this polysemy from a cognitive semantic perspective.

The various and varying real world situations are described in language in a way that is essentially metaphorical in nature, relating them all to an underlying schema of containment.

The relationship between the various sense is not arbitrary but systematic in natural.

The polysemoys nature of preposition OVER can be shown as follows.

The plane is flying over the hill.

Sam walked over the hill.

The bird flew over the yard.

The city clouded over.

Brugman and lakoff propose a complex structure for the meanings of over. The preposition has a number of related senses.Let us take over as example. This sense of over is described in terms of a path image schema using the term trajectory. For a moving entity and land mark for the background against which movement occurs.


Force schemas have been used to describe polysemy in modal verbs. For instance by using force schemas modal verbs like must, may, can be analysed.

Must can be used to express obligation.

May can be used to express obligation.


You must come with your parents

You may enter the studio when the light goes out.

He can swim much better than me

Talmy analyses these demotic uses in terms of forces and barriers. He proposes that a typical use of may as permission is an example of removing a barrier.Sweetest adopts and extends this analyse of may.She observes that the normal use of may is when the barrier is a social one. The verb LET is used in similar way.

For example:-

1.I will let you to do your work

2. The hole in the roof let the rain in.

3. He let him to play

4. They let me to sing

5. she let her to watch movies.

Sweetser analyses the epistemic use of modals as a metaphorical extension of these deontic uses.We can take the examples of must and may.In its epistemic use must can express a reasonable conclusion.

For instance:-

It’s dead. The battery must have run down.

He has travelled all the day. He must be tired.

She must attend the function

The epistemic use of may expresses possibility.

He may feel sick when we take off.

He may not lost out the whole game.

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