In the book Metaphors We Live By, co-authors George Lakoff and Mark Johnson explore the way our conceptual systems are shaped by metaphors.
Lakoff and Johnson argue that our conceptual system is largely metaphorical in nature. People understand a new concept in terms of an existing concept. If we did not use metaphor, we would have to learn about each new experience from scratch. For example, time is money is a common metaphor; this allows us to apply familiar ideas about money to the abstract idea of time. The authors note that metaphors are a natural part of human language and thought, and that they are often unconscious. The process of understanding a metaphor involves relating two concepts identified as the “tenor” and the “vehicle.” The tenor is the subject being discussed with words or phrases, while the vehicle is the subject carrying the weight of the meaning being transferred.
These metaphors may be simple or complex. A simple metaphor, such as John is a pig, occurs once in discourse, while a complex metaphor occurs throughout discourse “with no awareness that language is being used figuratively.” Complex metaphors are often dead for most people (that is, people do not consciously recognize them). For example, most people do not recognize give up as referring to
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About Metaphors We Live by Summary Pdf
The now-classic Metaphors We Live By changed our understanding of metaphor and its role in language and the mind. Metaphor, the authors explain, is a fundamental mechanism of mind, one that allows us to use what we know about our physical and social experience to provide understanding of countless other subjects. Because such metaphors structure our most basic understandings of our experience, they are “metaphors we live by”, metaphors that can shape our perceptions and actions without our ever noticing them.
In this updated edition of Lakoff and Johnson’s influential book, the authors supply an afterword surveying how their theory of metaphor has developed within the cognitive sciences to become central to the contemporary understanding of how we think and how we express our thoughts in language.
Understanding One’s Native Tongue
It turns out there were really good existential reasons for paying attention in primary school English. All that business about grammar and figures of speech is actually essential for getting on in the world quite apart from speaking proper. This classic from the 1970’s shows why this is so in an entertaining and convincing way.
Language is a odd thing. It looks like something neutral, a tool for doing things, some good, some not so good depending on its user. But language is crafty; it seems to have its own interests more than ours at heart. The conspiracy of language becomes obvious as soon as one recognizes the fact that words are defined solely in terms of other words, never in terms of things outside of language. This is a difficult idea to hold onto, mainly because it suggests that none of us really knows what we might be talking about.
The way this works in daily life is by our inevitable and pervasive use of metaphors to describe the world and what we’re doing in it. We fall in love, offer food for thought, try not to waste time, and build theories. We don’t even notice that these sorts of activities are metaphorical. And “the essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another.” Of course, the ‘things’ in question are always other words. So language fools us into thinking its not even there.
Metaphors have their own agendas. For example we conduct an argument like we’re engaging in a war. We make defensible claims so that our thesis is not demolished by an attack by our opponents. These expressions are not without content or effect. Through them, at least in our Western European culture, we know that there are winners and losers in an argument just as in war. There are certainly other ways to consider argument – let’s say as leading to consensus in the culture of the North American Plains Indians for example – but not for us. We’re stuck with argumentative combat.
The pervasiveness of metaphors really can’t be overstated. They are literally in almost every sentence we utter. Our brains are effectively hardwired (!) by them. Metaphors We Live By documents (!) hundreds of what might be called root (!) metaphors which ramify (!) uncontrollably throughout the language. From Time is Money to Happy is Up to a sight which Fills our Field of Vision, without a shared grasp (!) of these metaphors, communication would be impossible.
And then things get even more complicated. Metaphors not only morph, they also breed. So Love is a physical force, but it is also a patient to be cared for, a madness to be overcome, a form of magic which entrances, and even a war within ourselves and with the beloved. So-called Conduit metaphors form composites which may hide their origins in language rather than real things. Thus ideas or meanings are metaphorically physical objects; and linguistic expressions are metaphorical containers for these objects; and we communicate these containers by sending them from person to person as if they were parcels. This last step, ‘sending’ may not look metaphorical but it is indeed so, just in disguise as something that is actually done.
The idea of rationality itself, Reason as the philosophers call it, starts to look just a tad unreasonable when considered in terms of the metaphors involved. Look at the ambiguity of what we think of as reason sufficient to compel intellectual assent:
“… because I’m bigger than you. (intimidation)
… because if you don’t, I’ll… (threat)
… because I’m the boss, (authority)
… because you’re stupid, (insult)
… because you usually do it wrong, (belittling)
… because I have as much right as you do. (challenging authority)
… because I love you. (evading the issue) …
… because if you will…, I’ll… (bargaining)
… because you’re so much better at it. (flattery)”
Whether one agrees with the linguistic and philosophical foundations of Metaphors We Live By, the book is essential reading for any educated person. It is direct, understandable, and immense fun. It is also revelatory. Give it a go, metaphorically speaking.
In “How Emotions are Made”, Lisa Feldman Barrett wrote how concepts, goals, words all help the brain frame any new stimulus it receives and that by reframing concepts and looking at them more objectively, we can reshape what emotions are surfaced, and thus exercise free will. But how does one go about that? In the vast scope of “Metaphors we live by”, we get an answer to that too.
Metaphorical concepts are so ubiquitous in our thoughts and deeds that we don’t even realise they exist, let alone their effect on how we think about everything from business and ethics to marriage and poetry. Conceptual metaphors allow us to use the inferences in domains we can sense (space, objects etc) on other domains of subjective judgment. In a way, this is how we are able to transmit ideas and create a shared understanding. We often ascribe this to language, but it actually begins with metaphorical concepts.
The light bulb goes off in the first fee pages, when the authors use “Argument is war” as an example. It’s because war is the metaphor we have used at a concept level, that the words we used to describe it are about winning/losing it, or “your claims are indefensible” or ‘He demolished my arguments” or “I attacked his weak points” and so on. Another example to think of is “time is money” – you use spend/save/run out of/invest to describe time.
In addition to the structural metaphors above, there are oriental metaphors, which provide a spatial orientation, and are based on our physical and cultural experiences. For instance, happy (spirits rose), consciousness (woke up), control (top of the situation), more (numbers went up), future events (what’s up), good things (looking up), virtue (high standards) are all “up”, while their opposites are down.
A thing to note is that a concept can have multiple metaphors e.g. Ideas are food (half- baked), people (father of modern physics), plants (fertile imagination) and many more. Another interest part is the grounding of concepts. For instance, how we conceptualise the non-physical in terms of the physical. Harry is in the kitchen (which is spatial), in the army (social), in love (emotional).
The book further talks about the structuring of our experiences – experiential gestalts, as well as coherence of metaphors (including overlaps of metaphors, how they affect form, and how they can ultimately create realities. It also gets into very interesting territories – the nature of truth, objectivism and subjectivism. It points ou how both miss the part that we understand the world through our interactions with it, and proposes an Experientialist alternative.
Since I started reading the book, I have been watching the words I use (” I am running late”, “I don’t think we should spend more time on this”) and imagining different metaphors. Because by changing the metaphors we live by, we can change our everyday life, and our future. This is far from an easy read, but even (more than) 40 years after it was first published, it is still pathbreaking.
About Metaphors We Live by Pdf Author
George Lakoff is Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at UC Berkeley and is one of the founders of the field of cognitive science.
He is author of The New York Times bestseller Don’t Think of an Elephant!, as well as Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, Whose Freedom?, and many other books and articles on cognitive science and linguistics.