Metaphors have long been used as linguistic tools among poets and authors to reinforce messages through words and hidden meanings. In fact, the use of metaphors has made some of the most renowned pieces of literature captivating. However, other dimensions of metaphors outside the context of language have not yet been explored. This paper discusses the dimensions of metaphors not only as linguistic tools but also as conceptual systems that dictate how we live and behave.
Metaphors by definition are figures of speech that explain a concept by comparing it to another concept or object that is literally not applicable. Moreover, metaphors can also be defined as objects that symbolically represent something else. For instance, the phrase ‘knowledge is the key to success’ is a metaphor that compares knowledge to a key. Literally speaking, the two are unrelated but metaphorically, knowledge can be compared to a key, which opens the door to success in the same way a traditional key would open a door. However, this use of metaphors as linguistic devices is not the only way metaphors can be applied or interpreted. According to Lakoff and Johnson, in their book “Metaphors We Live By” metaphors have an intrinsic application in our lives (3).
Lakoff and Johnson argue that metaphors greatly contribute to our conceptual system of how we act and reason (4). In fact, they propose that our cognitive functions and reasoning skills rely on metaphors, which is reflected in the language we use. Therefore by examining the language we use, we can gain an insight into the conceptual system that also dictates our reasoning and cognitive functions. A good example is the extensive use of war-like language when describing arguments. For example, phrases such as ‘I demolished his argument’ and ‘he shot down my opinions’ are common. Consequently, such language gives an insight into how we consider situations that end in winning or losing as war. In so doing, we reason around the conceptual metaphor “argument is war”. Another fitting example is how we consider money and gold to be precious and this is reflected in language. The metaphor ‘time is money’ reflects our reasoning about money. While one would expect that time is more precious than money, this metaphor affirms that humans percieve money to be the ultimate measure of preciousness hence the comparison between the two.
Even in the conceptual system of thought regarding metaphors, there are different types of metaphors. Structural metaphors associate two concepts or objects through a systemic approach. In this approach, there are subcategories and deductive associations. For example, in the metaphor ’time is money’, we deduce that time, like money, is a limited resource and is therefore a precious commodity. Orientational metaphors on the other hand rely on spatial dimensions such as ‘up or down’ and ‘in or out’ to impart meaning. Ontological metaphors on the other hand view everything as an object, which makes it easy to categorize or quantify. ‘I have a mountain of work to do’ is a good example. Ontological metaphors also use personification (Lakoff and Johnson 6). For example, ‘his profession would not let him marry’ implies that the profession in this case is a person.
In conclusion, metaphors are much broader language tools. They play a much deeper and bigger role in our conceptual system and by extension dictate the way we act and reason.
Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson. Metaphors We Live By.Univ.Of Chicago Press, 1980. http://shu.bg/tadmin/upload/storage/161.pdf