A Cognitive Semantics Study Metaphor English Language Essay

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In general, both cognitive semantics and cognitive linguistics observe language as fundamentally connected to general cognitive processes and human cognitive. Language is viewed as naturally symbolic, and as a result, all linguistic expressions, including lexical, morphological and syntactic, are seen as units of symbols which comprise traditional form-meaning mapping used for communication (Langacker, 1987). In the areas of cognitive semantics, since the Lakoff and Johnson's research publication on conceptual metaphor, Metaphors We Live By (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980), a quick raise of interest in the studies of metaphor appears. Using theoretical argument and empirical investigation, Lakoff and Johnson support that metaphor is thought to demonstrate its universal nature in everyday and traditional language.

At the same time, second language pedagogy doubtlessly aims at being multidisciplinary because pedagogy is both related to linguistics as well as acquisition. All linguists, in the field of language pedagogy, have to realize the necessity of every experience and actual knowledge. In this paper, the extent to which metaphor contributes to second language teaching will be discussed and illustrated with detailed specifications of various pedagogical applications, namely, teaching preposition, phrasal verbs and idioms.


Lakoff & Thompson (1975) and Rosch (1975) refuse the main ideas that syntax is disconnected from other parts of language including cognition. Therefore, they affirm that language is being affected by human cognition, including human perceptions and categorization, in which language actually cultivates through human interactions and experiences in the world. Cognitive linguistics could be practically divided into two areas: cognitive grammar and cognitive semantics.


Cognitive Grammar forms a model of grammar which matches with the assumptions in cognitive semantics. The two principles of cognitive grammar are (a) the symbolic thesis, and (b) the usage-based thesis. The symbolic thesis maintains that the basic unit of grammar is a form-meaning pairing which is a symbolic unit. All linguistic parts, for instance, single morphemes, words, phrases, idioms, clauses and sentences provide and express meaning. The usage-based thesisgenerally relates to the feature of language as it is spoken and understood, as well as with the dynamics of its use.


Cognitive semantics, being part of Cognitive Linguistics, appears in the 1970s as the consequence of a discontent with existing formal semantic theories, and as a cognitive phenomenon, a hope to explicitly focus on meaning (Allwood & Gardenfors, 1999). Concerning formal semantics, linguists have an objectivist philosophical belief in which semantic structure is seen as having a truth-conditional relation between an utterance and an objective reality. The obvious disadvantage of this truth-conditional model is that only propositions including descriptions of matters can be accounted for (Sinha, 1999; Evans & Green, 2006), but not other types of frequent non-declarative and "irrealis" expressions, for instance, performatives, metaphors, and counterfactuals.

On the contrary, cognitive semantics uses human cognition as the theme of linguistic description, and regards linguistic meaning as an exhibition of conceptual structure. Cognitive semantics comprises various approaches, which have a general emphasis on the relation between language, meaning, and cognition. The three guiding principles demonstrate the nature of cognitive semantics as in the following paragraphs (Evans & Green, 2006).

Conceptual structure is embodied

This philosophical view, named as experimentalism by Lakeoff, has the meaning of putting the structures together in our conceptual systems through bodily experience and making sense out of it accordingly (Lakoff, 1987). For instance, our concept of spatial relations is based on relatively simple kinaesthetic image schemas which constantly happen again and again in our daily bodily experience (Johnson, 1987; Lakoff, 1987). Therefore, cognitive semantics aims at building a theory of conceptual structure which agrees with the way we experience the world and the way we perceive and conceptualize it.

Semantic structure is conceptual structure

Broadly interpreted meaning is related to conceptualization of all aspects of sensorimotor and emotive experience and apprehension of the linguistic, social and cultural context (Langacker, 1996). Hence, cognitive semanticists would like to find how meaning is stimulated by human perceptual and conceptual processes, for example, metaphorical and metonymic mappings, figure-ground organization and prototypes, and so on, which are named as "backstage cognition" (Fauconnier , 1994).

Meaning representation is encyclopedic

The meaning of an expression about an entity is everything people know about that entity, that is to say, its meaning representation is likened to facts and information as found in an encyclopedia. The given expression contains the associated meanings which draw relevance from complex bodies of knowledge (Langacker, 1987; Lakoff, 1987), and are regarded as mental representations of the way the world is formed. It follows that a clear distinction between semantics and pragmatics is not achievable like the relationship between linguistic and extralinguistic knowledge (Langacker, 1987).


Metaphor theories have developed through the phases as follows: Aristotle's comparison theory, Quintilian's substitution theory, Richards and Black's interaction theory and up to Lakoff and Johnson's conceptual metaphor theory. Lakoff and Johnson, in Metaphors We Live By, introduce conceptual metaphor theory and assure that metaphor is a cognitive process whilst all the former researchers treat metaphor as a type of 'deviation' of linguistic. Aristotle (1987) is the pioneer in the study of metaphor which he reasons that metaphor is a linguistic decoration in naming one thing by using the name of another thing to attain vividness in his comparison theory. Not until 1930s, claiming that metaphor is a way of thinking rather than just a linguistic decoration, Richards (1936) suggests interaction theory and believes that language is essentially metaphorical. From that time onwards, studies of metaphor orientate cognitively. With the most powerful representatives Lakoff and Johnson provided with in their conceptual metaphor theory as described above, the hot debate drove metaphor studies into "metaphormania" in the 1970s (Li, 2007).

The present study uses the definition of metaphor from Lakoff and Johnson that metaphor is extensive in everyday life and in thought and action rather than simply in language (1980). For instance, ARGUMENT IS WAR, domain use is different should be noted, with the former denotes a linguistic behavior while the latter represents an armed conflict. However, in everyday conversation, ARGUMENT is often understood and made known through the concept of WAR, that means there is a direct mapping of the two domains in which the two belong to correspondingly. The following isfew other examples of conceptual metaphor:

Love is a journey (nominal metaphor)

Ups and downs in life (adverbial metaphor)

Kill these boring hours (verbal metaphor)

Be in low spirits (adjectival metaphor)

Carter (2003) mentions that "linguistic awareness" is defined as enhanced understanding of the linguistic form and function of language by learners whilst "metaphor awareness" is defined as deepened awareness of learners on metaphor and its function in language.

After realizing all languages contain metaphor, with metaphor awareness, a learner can notify metaphor in different forms, for instance, nominal metaphor, verbal metaphor and adverbial metaphor.


Teaching Preposition

An entity is located by spatial prepositions in relation to a 'landmark'. The meaning, for instance, in 'the cat is under the chair', is that 'the cat' is situated in relation to the extensions landmark 'the chair'. In general, a preposition may account the relative position according to one's contact or separation, such as underneath usually expresses contact relations, below usually expresses separation relations, and under describes the vague relation (Boers 1996). Although adverbs can be applied in most prepositions (e.g. 'he glanced at her back and observed her hair all over'), 'preposition' should be treated as a cover term.

Pedagogically, learners have to be taught prepositions where they are polysemous and that they are different but with related senses. Prototype develops various spatial senses through quite a systematic manner. Boers (1996) mentions, for instance, that prepositions used to express a contact relation tend to develop rotated senses, such as 'the television on the table  the photograph on the wall', 'the cloth over the table  the mask over his face'. Items that conventionally express a separation relation do not generally develop such rotated senses. This explains why it is acceptable to have 'she isn't wearing anything under her coat', while 'she isn't wearing anything below her coat' is not.

Through conceptual metaphors, spatial preposition develops figurative senses of a preposition. The word under, for instance, in 'he served under the King', is shown by the hierarchy sense of metaphor LOW STATUS IS DOWN and HIGH STATUS IS UP. The spatial senses, with a complete understanding, does give us the reasons why one particular item instead of another is used so as to describe a given metaphor. For instance, below is less appropriate than under when expressing social hierarchy including interaction, such as the difference between 'he studied under Halliday' and *'he studied below Halliday', since below generally expresses a separation relation (Boers 1996). From a teaching and learning perspective, it is essential to highlight the field of spatial senses of preposition as it is especially relevant for its metaphorization processes.

The following is to demonstrate the way cognitive semantic helps predict certain comprehension problems from LI interference. For application reasons, verbal descriptions can be made use of in this section, while the practical use of pictorial representations is accepted in the classroom (Lindstromberg, 1996). The central meaning of behind is usually express in situations in which an entity is hidden by a landmark, such as 'she was hiding behind the sofa'. Students of various levels of English are asked to translate and rephrase sentences involving various figurative senses of behind in a reading comprehension task. Explanations of difficult vocabularies are inserted so as to prevent comprehension problems because of other lexis around the sentences of behind. Metaphorically, this can be interpreted as SEEING IS KNOWING and NOT SEEING IS NOT KNOWING, which motivates the first figurative sense of behind.

Example (1): What is the reality behind the appearance?

A second figurative sense is used in situations where a person is backed up by others. ABSTRACT SUPPORT IS BACKING UP, which can be metaphorically expressed.

Example (2): The ABC Company should be behind its manager.

It will usually be situated relative to our backs, after turning away from an entity. The second major spatial sense of behind is formed.

Example (3): You left your injured friends behind (you).

We can metaphorically say that TIME IS A PATH when we move away from the past and approach towards the future.

Example (4): You should carry on your life by leaving the past behind you.

We can observe that spatial sense one entity follows another.

Example (5): I ran behind him.

ABSTRACT COMPETITION IS A RACE can be sensed metaphorically.

Eventually, behind has a spatial sense where the figure forces the landmark forward.

Example (6): The woman behind the handcart.

CAUSATION IS SETTING SOMETHING IN MOTION can be viewed metaphorically.

Example (7): What's the intention behind this deed?

Example (8): Those were the reasons behind the story.

Phrasal Verbs

Boers (2000: 563) claims intermediate English proficiency learners will gain from metaphor teaching because those people are hindered by a shortage of vocabularies; therefore, they do not know many figurative expressions. At the same time, advanced learners tend to be more restricted and hesitant to transfer idioms. Andewou & Galantomos (2008) mention that, with respect to age, adults are much better in understanding cognitive semantics, including metaphor because of their analytic ability and mature process. This paper treats teenagers with basic language proficiency as having advantage on learning phrasal verbs through metaphorical teaching method.

There are lots of phrasal verbs in English Language where we only decide to deal with the adverbial particles off and up. Before the teaching, all learners will first learn twelve phrasal verbs of off and up, with six off particles and six up particles. The teachers use cognitive semantics to explain the meanings of twelve phrasal verbs (see Appendix). For instance, learners will be taught of the concept of being finished or complete is normally known as the concept up, which is followed by orientational metaphor completion is up like break up, make up and eat up. Stop is up is another orientational metaphor like give up. These phrasal verbs involve the combinations of conceptual metaphors, polysemy and family resemblance.

After the teaching, there are fifteen minutes for the learners to absorb all the phrasal verbs of the lesson. Then, ten minutes will be given to fill out twelve questions, mostly filling in up or off (Appendix 3). There are six questions from the items that are taught during lessons and six others are new to them for learning.

Teaching idioms

There are many ways to teach idioms metaphorically in which two of them are shown in the following section.

Example 1:

'Life is a Journey', 'There has been a Slip Up', 'Money is a Liquid', 'Anger is Heat', and 'Happiness and Sadness' are the idioms being taught within five lesson plans. Those lesson plans in use are developed from an online source, www.onestopenglish.com, which teaches English as a second language. And those lesson plans are then used in the course Lexical Competence, which weighs three credits in the English Teacher Training program. Each lesson plan lasts for two-hour period and the whole teaching process is to be ended in two weeks within 10 hours. Before these lessons, the learners are tested by a pre-test having 28 items so as to see their level before idiomatic expressions are taught during the teaching. Throughout the 10-hour implementation of the lesson plans, the students are examined the progress made and the participation in classes. It is common that in the first lesson, after distributing the pre-test, it can be observed that the students are not aware of metaphors in the target language. Even if they are asked what the meaning of metaphor is, they will try to respond to it but they may not deliver satisfactory answers. After some brief definitions and explanations of metaphor and idioms, the application process will get started with the first lesson plan.

The target of those lesson plans is to metaphorically enhance the meanings of several words and phrases related to anger, happiness and sadness, making mistakes, money and life. Different types of warm-up exercises are used to make students pay attention to some related vocabularies. Those exercises involve brainstorming activities, role playing and negotiating on the meaning. They aim at the literal usages of the words with some are referred directly to metaphoric usages of which emphasis should be made on meaning as the first priority. After that, practical activities will be done during lessons which involve the literal and metaphoric meanings of the expressions. Other activities like classifying expressions, examining cross-linguistic and cross-cultural aspects of the expressions will also be carried out. Eventually, it would end up by speaking or writing activities for incorporating new expressions into use and personalizing them. Students' own experiences will be exchanged and written out throughout the activities in which they need to question and answer one another by making use of question cards or in TV shows format.

Furthermore, in each lesson plan, a specific metaphor would be focused to let learners think more on it, for example, 'Life is a Journey'. It is followed by the idiomatic expressions that are similar to that metaphor will be presented. During lessons, teachers will require learners to interpret the expressions by using their own words, find some similar words in their first language and compare with them. To sum up, the lesson plans with exercises and activities are used for communication and are intended to help students use those new items.

Example 2:

The pedagogy which will be discussed is obtained from an online tool that was developed for learners of modern languages in a college. The target of this tool is to help students acquire knowledge of English figurative idioms in a curriculum which will last for four years. The idioms are introduced to the students in groups of 20 to 30 items at a time, but the same series of idioms are targeted in different types of exercises which are given in Appendix A.

One exercise, called 'identify the meaning', is a multiple-choice exercise in which the learners are required to match the correct definition of the figurative meaning of the expression. If the answer is wrong, the meaning will be explained on the screen as a feedback.

A second exercise, called 'identify the source', is a multiple-choice exercise in which the learner is required to match the most likely source domain of the idiom such as 'war'. nThe same, if the answer is wrong, a brief explained feedback of the origin of the expression will be shown on the screen. This exercise is for the sake of establishing dual coding, as the 'etymological' feedback is believed to call up a mental image of a concrete scene where it could possibly be stored in memory alongside the verbal form. In general, the etymological explanation does not connect with the described origin of the expression explicitly under its present idiomatic meaning. Therefore, it is hoped that this connection will be developed by the learners themselves through this teaching and that the learnerswill be involved in 'deep'-level learning processing.

A third exercise, called a gap-fill exercise, in which the learner is presented with a meaningful content but with the absence of the keyword of the idiom. This is to test if the recollection of the expression is done by the learners. If the learners cannot fill in the right word, again, the correct answers will appear on the screen as feedback.

Under these three exercises with their corresponding order, learners can yield an average recall rate of 68.5% of idioms that are previously unknown to them. By changing the order of the two multiple-choice exercises, namely, the identify-the-meaning exercise and theidentify-the-source exercise, the initial target of the teaching in relation to the mnemonic effect of etymological elaboration can be found out. It is hypothesized that using the identify-the-source exercise and its related explanation could inspire students to apply this knowledge to the figurative meaning of the idioms during the exercise practising, which can stimulate 'deep' learning processing and thus acquire the knowledge. For the sake of raising the awareness of students in some usage restrictions, a fourth type of exercise can be added, called 'identify the informal idiom'. A list of four idioms will be shown to the learners and they are told that one of those idioms is most typically used in informal contexts according to the Oxford Dictionary of Idioms.