Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Idioms, Metaphors, and Lakoff, Oh My!

Now that the election is over, it's safe to talk about Lakoff and his theory of metaphor, but before I get to that, I want to talk about idioms. Idiomatic expressions are interesting because in many cases the connection between them and their meaning is not always obvious. Take the idiom "kicked the bucket." What does kicking the bucket have to do with death? There are all sorts of folk etymologies constructed for these sorts of idioms (e.g., kicking a bucket on which one stands to hang oneself), but for the most part, the real phrase-meaning connection remains elusive1. For practical purposes, it might seem as though these connections don't matter; convention has established a meaning for idiomatic expressions, and people are able to learn them even when the expressions are opaque, as is "kicked the bucket." However, it turns out that the tendency to search for the connections between idiomatic expressions and their conventional meanings is in fact imporant for both practical and theoretical reasons. To demonstrate why, I'll quickly describe an experiment on idiom comprehension. Afterwards, I'll talk a little about the implications of this experiment, and some others, for Lakoff's conceptual metaphor theory.

Keysar and Bly 2 gave participants unfamiliar idioms3 in contexts that implied one of two meanings for the idioms. Half of the participants read the idiom with one meaning, and the other half with another. Afterwards, participants were asked to rate how likely it was that the idioms could have another meaning. Keysar and Bly found that after exposure to one meaning, participants; ratings of the likelihood that the expression could have another meaning were much lower (than another set of participants who read the idioms without being given a meaning). This effect grew stronger the more participants were exposed to the first meaning of the idiom. Furthermore, participants spontaneously constructed explanations for the meanings of the idioms. For instance, when given the idiom "the goose hangs high" in a context in which it meant that things were going well, participants might interpret it as meaning "there is a freshly-killed goose hanging in the larder, and so there will be plenty of food." When asked how likely it was that "the goose hangs high" meant things were not going well, participants who had been given the "things are going well" meaning rated this as very unlikely. Thus it appears that because people assume that there is a connection between the expression and its conventional meaning (and even construct explanations for this connection), and that people have a difficult time believing that the idiom could have another meaning once they've given it an interpretation.

While plausible, peoples' inferences about the literal meanings of the idiomatic expressions in the Keysar and Bly experiment were not based on any real evidence. Instead, they were "best guesses" based on the expression itself and the meaning it was given. One of the motivations for this experiment was to argue that this is the sort of thing that appears to be going on in cognitive linguistics when people like Lakoff and Johnson interpret conventional expressions such as those that use the language of war to talk about arguments (e.g., "The debate teams battled hard"). According to Lakoff and Johnson, such expressions are instantiations of conceptual metaphors (in this case, the "argument is war" metaphor). When people interpret these conventional expressions, they are making conceptual mappings between the domain being discussed (e.g., arguments) and a base domain (e.g., war). Under this view, this how we understand these expressions each time we hear them (i.e., we have to make the mappings for the expressions to make sense). Keysar and Bly argue that at most, these interpretations (specifically Lakoff and Johnson's interpretations) of conventional expressions are post hoc inferences like those the participants made about the meaning of "the goose hangs high." Instead of making the conceptual mappings implied by Lakoff and Johnson's intepretations of such statements, people (including Lakoff and Johnson) may build these interpretations after comprehension. The metaphorical mapping between arguments and wars is not actually part of the meaning of the expression itself, but merely a spontaneous explanation of that meaning. Here's a further explanation of the differences between the two views, from Keysar et al.4:

To point out the difference between the two alternatives, consider Lakoff and Johnson’s claim that “it is important to see that we don’t just talk about arguments in terms of war. We can actually win or lose arguments [. . .] It is in this sense that the ARGUMENT IS WAR metaphor is one that we live by in this culture; it structures the actions we perform in arguing.” Our alternative claim is that we usually do “just talk” about arguments using terms that are also used to talk about war. Put more simply, the words that we use to talk about war and to talk about arguments are polysemous, but systematically related. Just as a word such as depress can be used to talk about either physical depression or emotional depression, words such as win or lose can be used to talk about arguments, wars, gambling, and romances, with no necessary implication that any one of these domains provides the conceptual underpinning for any or all of the others. The bottom line is that conventional expressions can be understood directly, without recourse to underlying conceptual mappings. Thus, when we say that an argument is right on target we do “just talk” about arguments using terms that we also happen to use when we talk about war—and music, art, literature, journalism, film criticism, and any other human activity in which something can be more or less on target. (p. 578)

Things get still worse for Lakoff and Johnson when we consider more empirical evidence. The fact that people spontaneously produce post hoc interpretations of the meanings of conventional expressions calls into question Lakoff and Johnson's own metaphorical interpretations of such expressions, but it doesn't show that people aren't actually making the conceptual mappings Lakoff and Johnson say they are. However, other findings make it clear that people really aren't making these sorts of conceptual mappings. For instance, in one set of experiments, McGlone5 asked participants to paraphrase conventional metaphorical expressions like those about arguments that use terminology from the war domain. Participants produced paraphrases that were consistent with the meaning of the expression (e.g., a long lively argument), but rarely produced paraphrases that said anything about the base domain (e.g., talk about war), implying that no mappings had occurred.

In another set of experiments, Keysar et al. had people read scenarios that contained either no mapping, an implicit mapping (i.e., they used language that Lakoff and Johnson argue involves the instatiation of a conceptual metaphor, but the metaphor itself was not made explicit in the sentences), or an explicit mapping (same as in the implicit condition, but with the metaphor itself as one of the sentences in the scenario). Example scenarios from the "love is a patient" metaphor are below (from Keysar et al., Table 1):

No mapping “Love is a challenge” said Lisa. “I feel that this relationship is in trouble. How can we have an enduring marriage if you keep admiring other women?” “It’s your jealousy,” said Tom.

Implicit “Love is a challenge” said Lisa. “I feel that this relationship is on its last legs. How can we have a strong marriage if you keep admiring other women?” “It’s your jealousy,” said Tom.

Explicit “Love is a patient,” said Lisa. “I feel that this relationship is on its last legs. How can we have a strong marriage if you keep admiring other women?” “It’s your jealousy,” said Tom.
At the end of each scenario was the same target sentence, which referenced the conceptual mapping. The target sentence for the "love is a patient" scenarios was, "You're infected with this disease." Keysar et al. measured reading times for this target sentence, and compared them across conditions. If conceptual mappings occur during the comprehension of the implicit or explicit mapping scenarios, then it should be easier to comprehend the mapping-related target sentence, and therefore reading times for these sentences would be shorter in the two mapping conditions (the literal scenario was included as a manipulation check). If people don't spontaneously conduct the mapping, but do so when prompted to, then the difference in reading times should only show up in the explicit mapping scenarios. If people aren't making mappings, then there should be no difference between the no-mapping and mapping scenarios. This last possibility is what Keysar et al. actually found. Reading times did not differ across the three conditions. Thus it appears that people weren't making the mappings when interpreting statements that should, according to Lakoff and Johnson, require conceptual mappings in order to make sense. They didn't even make the mappings when they were prompted to by sentences making the mappings explicit. In fact, the only time in which they did appear to make the mappings Lakoff and Johnson say they should occurred in another experiment, in which novel (rather than conventional) metaphorical statements were used. For example, the following is a novel scenario derived from the "love is a patient" metaphor (from Table 1):

Novel “Love is a patient,” said Lisa. “I feel that this relationship is about to flatline. How can we administer the right medicine if you keep admiring other women?” “It’s your jealousy,” said Tom.
When given this scenario, participants did read the target sentence faster than in the no-mapping condition, as well as the implicit and explicit mapping condition. Thus, it appears that novel metaphors do require mappings, while conventional expressions do not.

Where does all of this leave conceptual metaphor theory? Well, I don't know about you, but I think it's pretty safe to start treating it as a result of the illusory transparency of conventional expressions, rather than as a good theory of everyday thinking. The evidence overwhelmingly indicates that people simply aren't performing the conceptual mappings that the Lakoff and Johnson conceptual metaphor theory requires. Fortunately, outside of the cognitive linguistics circle, this is how Lakoff and Johnson's theory is already viewed. However, Lakoff has bipassed the cognitive science world, and taken his theory straight to the public in the form of his framing analysis of political discourse. This is unfortunate. If we try to do framing the way Lakoff tells us we should, we're going to quickly run into problems. Lakoff's entire analysis of the conceptual metaphors underlying the two poles in American politics is probably nothing more than a misguided (and painfully bad) attempt to explain the meaning of "the goose hangs high." If we try to use these conceptual metaphors to explain and sell the moral underpinnings of our political views, we're simply not going to activate the desired mappings, as the Keysar et al. experiments show.

1 I've heard that "kicked the bucket" has its origins in pig-slaughtering techniques, but I'm not sure how reliable that etymology is either.
Keysar, K, & Bly, B. (1995). Intuitions of the transparency of idioms: Can one keep a secret by spilling the beans? Journal of Memory and Language, 34, 89-109.
3 They were actually really, really old idioms that were completely unfamilar to the participants.
4 Keysar, B., Shen, Y., Glucksberg, ?S, & Horton, W. (2000). Conventional Language: How Metaphorical Is It? Journal of Memory and Language, 43, 576–593.
5 McGlone, M. S. (1996). Conceptual metaphors and figurative language interpretation: Food for thought? Journal of Memory and Language, 35, 544–565.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think you're right that this is a fairly strong argument against Lakoff's position; the McGlone experiment as you characterized it seems sufficiently suggestive in its own right that with supplementary evidence like that of Keysar et al. I don't see how one could continue to accept the conceptual metaphor view.

When you say "outside of the cognitive linguistics circle," did you mean "within the cognitive linguistics circle" or am I misunderstanding what you mean by 'cognitive linguistics'? For some reason that sentence keeps reading like the opposite of what I presume you are trying to say. 

Posted by Brandon

Anonymous said...

I just read it, and it does come out a little confusing. What I mean is that outside of cognitive linguistics, the conceptual metaphor theory isn't taken very seriously. It's spurred some research on spatial metaphors for time, and gets cited now and then by some knowledge representation people, but in 24 years, it's led to very little published research, and given these findings and others, it probably never will lead to much. 

Posted by Chris

Anonymous said...

Actually, most of the research on conceptual metaphor deals specifically with understanding figurative language. There isn't so much examining how conceptual metaphors play into abstract thought. You should also check out Sam Glucksberg, who has written a lot on the subject.

Chris said...

Gibbs' work deals specifically with figurative language, as does much of the work on political metaphor, but Lakoff, Johnson, Turner, and the rest have pretty much described all speech as ultimately figurative.

Glucksberg is a case in point. While he often looks at overtly figurative language, his conclusions are generalized to all speech and thought.

Anonymous said...

I think that Keysar et al. missed one of the big points about conceptual mappings such that one might question the relevancy of their results or opt to do a futher study about this. The point that they seem to have missed is that the mappings crucially preserve patterns of inference. So that while it is probably not the case that any mention of the metaphor triggers the mapping (when more literal reasoning suffices for the task at hand), I would like to see results in this kind of study when the target sentence is based on a pattern of inference that is to be imported from the target domain to the source domain. Keyser et al do not do this for some reason. Actually, they do this only in the case of their novel metaphors, which, curiously, is the case in which the mappings appear to be used.

I would be interested in other's thoughts on the matter.

-Adam

Chris said...

Anon, I agree. In fact, I've conducted research on that very hypothesis: that what happens after repeated mappings is that their outputs, including the patterns of inference, become schemas themselves, and can be contextually activated. However, this is nothing like the claims of Lakoff and Johnson. For them, the base concept is activated, not simply the output of the mappings. Otherwise, the concepts are not metaphorical, but have metaphorical origins (i.e., lakoff and johnson are doing linguistic archeology, like I always say).

Chris said...

Anon, I agree. In fact, I've conducted research on that very hypothesis: that what happens after repeated mappings is that their outputs, including the patterns of inference, become schemas themselves, and can be contextually activated. However, this is nothing like the claims of Lakoff and Johnson. For them, the base concept is activated, not simply the output of the mappings. Otherwise, the concepts are not metaphorical, but have metaphorical origins (i.e., lakoff and johnson are doing linguistic archeology, like I always say).

Anonymous said...

This is probably a naïve question, but I hope someone could explain why the reading time measures are so fundamental? If mappings (or projections)are as important as Lakoff suggests, why should it take longer to read them? (Isn't this just an instantiation of the 'metaphors are literary devices' assumption?).

Besides, if the same sentence is read several times in one setting, isn't it strange that participants did not read it quicker after a few exposures (regardless of mapping or not)?

ghkj said...

EVEN by wow gold the standards gold in wow of the worst financial buy wow gold crisis for at least wow gold cheap a generation, the events of Sunday September 14th and the day before were extraordinary. The weekend began with hopes that a deal could be struck,maplestory mesos with or without government backing, to save Lehman Brothers, America''s fourth-largest investment bank.sell wow gold Early Monday buy maplestory mesos morning Lehman maplestory money filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. It has more than maplestory power leveling $613 billion of debt.Other vulnerable financial giants scrambled maple money to sell themselves or raise enough capital to stave off a similar fate. billig wow gold Merrill Lynch, the third-biggest investment bank, sold itself to Bank of America (BofA), an erstwhile Lehman suitor,wow power leveling in a $50 billion all-stock deal.wow power leveling American International Group (AIG) brought forward a potentially life-saving overhaul and went maple story powerleveling cap-in-hand to the Federal Reserve. But its shares also slumped on Monday.

kiloi said...

tn chaussuresEnter the necessary language translation, up to 200 bytes winter, moves frequently in China, nike chaussures showing that the deep strategy of the Chinese market. Harvard Business School, nike tnaccording to the relevant survey data show that in recent years the Chinese market three brands, Adidas, mens clothingpolo shirts Li Ning market share at 21 percent, respectively, 20%, 17%. The brand is first-line to three lines of urban competition for mutual penetration. Side of theworld,announced layoffs, while China's large-scale facilities fists. The sporting goods giant Nike's every move in the winter will be fully exposed its strategy. Years later, the Nike, Inc. announced the world's Fan

products said...

China Wholesale has been described as the world’s factory. This phenomenom is typified by the rise of buy products wholesalebusiness. Incredible range of products available with wholesale from china“Low Price and High Quality” not only reaches directly to their target clients worldwide but also ensures that China Wholesalers from China means margins you cannot find elsewhere and China Wholesale will skyroket your profits.

huyuni said...

Thank you so much!!cheap polo shirts men'ssweate,Burberry Polo Shirts lacoste sweater, ralph lauren Columbia Jackets,ski clothing. Free Shipping, PayPal Payment. Enjoy your shopping experience on mensclothingus.com.You can find the father who desire fashionable, intellectual mens clothing simultaneouslyGod bless you!I really agree with your opinions.Also,there are some new fashion things here,gillette razor blades.gillette mach3 razor bladesfor men.As for ladies,gillette venus razor blades must the best gift for you in summer,gillette fusion blades are all the best choice for you.Fantastic!God bless you!Meanwhile,you can visit my ,we have the highest quality but the lowest price fashion products wholesale from China.Here are the most popular China Wholesale products for all of you.You can visit .Also the is a great choice for you.

huyuni said...

nike shoes & Puma Shoes Online- tn nike,puma shoes,puma cat, baskets cheap nike shox, air max.cheap nike shox r4 torch, cheap nike air, nike running shoes air max, puma speed and more. Paypal payment.nike running shoes Enjoy your shopping experience on Nike & Puma Shoes Online Store.

huyuni said...

Lacoste Polo Shirts, , Burberry Polo Shirts.wholesale Lacoste polo shirts and cheap polo shirtswith great price. clothingol.com offers lot of 10ralph lauren polo lacoste polo shirts and lot of 20 Burberry Polo Shirts. clothingol.com offers classic fit polo shirts. polo clothingCheap Brand Jeans ShopMen Jeans - True Religion Jeans, burberry polo shirtsGUCCI Jeans, Levi's Jeans, D&G Jeans, RED MONKEY Jeans, Cheap JeansArmani Jeans, Diesel Jeans, Ed hardy Jeans, Evisu Jeans, Women JeansJack&Jones Jeans...

huyuni said...

Charlestoncheap columbia jackets. turned a pair of double plays to do the trick. spyder jacketsThe had at least one runner on in every inning but the first and outhit the RiverDogs by a 12-6 margin Lawal should be a focal point of the Yellow cheap polo shirts along with highly touted newcomer, 6-9 Derrick Favors, rated as the No. 1 power forward on the ESPNU 100. The Yellow Jackets

theprophet said...

There was this guy who believed very much in true love and decided to take his time to

wait for his right girl to appear. He believed that there would definitely be someone

special out there for him, but none came.
Every year at Christmas, his ex-girlfriend would return from Vancouver to look him up.

He was aware that she still held some hope of re-kindling the past romance with him. He

did not wish to mislead her in any way. nike

shoxs
So he would always get one of his girl friends to pose as his steady whenever

she came back. That went on for several years and each year, the guy would get a

different girl to pose as his romantic interest. So whenever the ex-girlfriend came to

visit him, she would be led into believing that it was all over between her and the guy.

nike womens shoes The girl took all those rather

well, often trying to casually tease him about his different girlfriends, or so, as it

seemed! In fact, the girl often wept in secret whenever she saw him with another girl,

but she was too proud to admit it. Still, every Christmas, she returned, hoping to re-

kindle some form of romance. But each time, she returned to Vancouver feeling

disappointed.
Finally she decided that she could not play that game any longer. puma mens shoes Therefore, she confronted him and

professed that after all those years, he was still the only man that she had ever loved.

mens puma shoesAlthough the guy knew of her

feelings for him, he was still taken back and have never expected her to react that way.

He always thought that she would slowly forget about him over time and come to terms

that it was all over between them. nike shox

Although he was touched by her undying love for him and wanted so much to accept her

again, he remembered why he rejected her in the first place-she was not the one he

wanted. nike 360 air maxSo he hardened his heart

and turned her down cruelly. nike running

shoes
Since then, three years have passed and the girl never return anymore. They

never even wrote to each other. NIKE air shoes The

guy went on with his life..... still searching for the one but somehow deep inside him,

he missed the girl.
On the Christmas of 1995, he went to his friend's party alone. "Hey, how come all alone

this year? Where are all your girlfriends? What happened to that Vancouver babe who

joins you every Christmas?", asked one of his friend.nike air max He felt warm and comforted by his

friend's queries about her, still he just surged on.
Then, he came upon one of his many girlfriends whom he once requested to pose as his

steady. He wanted so much to ignore her ..... not that he was impolite,wholesale nike shoes but because at that moment, he

just didn't feel comfortable with those girlfriends anymore. nike shox torchIt was almost like he was being judged

by them. The girl saw him and shouted across the floor for him. Unable to avoid her, he

went up to acknowledge her.
"Hi......how are you? Enjoying the party?" the girl asked.
"Sure.....yeah!", he replied.
She was slightly tipsy..... must be from the whiskey on her hand.

polo shirt said...

Best wishes for you! May be you are interested in party cocktail dresses, and you may need cheap bridesmaid dress for you special Occasions. We can provide cheap cocktail dresses, cheap flower girl dresses even the plus size wedding dresses. You can choose that you like!

polo shirt said...

Perfect!! You are a outstanding person! Do you want to wear stunning discount wedding dresses and join the party wearing beautiful cheap prom dresses?? Or you want all people's eyes can't move from you? The evening formal dresses are the best gift for you!

polo shirt said...

Fantastic! God bless you! Meanwhile, we have the highest quality but the lowest price fashion cheap wedding dresses. Here are the most popular designer wedding dresses and lace wedding dresses for all of you. Also the cheap evening dresses is a great choice for you. Let you dream come ture!!

polo shirt said...

Do not mean bad.Thank you so much! I just want to show some fashion wedding dress to all of you. I like wedding dresses, because wedding for a girl, it is the most special day in her life. Do you want to have the beautiful wedding dresses in perfect day??

polo shirt said...

http://luoluo123.blogspot.com
http://crystalluo612.blog126.fc2.com
http://lj83612.spaces.live.com
http://cheappolos.blog.drecom.jp
http://d.hatena.ne.jp/specialoccasiondress
http://crystal888.edublogs.org
http://www4.atword.jp/summerfashion
http://blog.oricon.co.jp/misspoloshirt
http://blog.qlep.com/blog.php/gillette
http://blog.goo.ne.jp/pumafr
http://www.pumafr.com/blog
http://www.clothessports.com
http://chinaclothes.net