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An Overview Of Metaphor And Politics English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 5509 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The earliest study of metaphor can be traced back to the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, whose definition of metaphor as transference of lexical meaning for achieving rhetorical and poetical value set the tones for scores of generations in their metaphor study. For a long time, metaphor was limited to a narrow field of practical rhetoric and composition, and even considered simply ornamental in function. The advent of cognitive linguistics, put forward by Lakoff and Johnson, has exerted a dramatic change to metaphor research. Metaphor is not merely a linguistic expression, but more fundamentally a form of thought with its own epistemological function. Furthermore, Lakoff also advocated that “metaphor, as a phenomenon, involves both conceptual mappings and individual linguistic expressions” (1992, p.5). In modern times, metaphor is recognized as a powerful tool in shaping the cognitive world that we experience and therefore is indeed something that we live by. Acknowledged as an indispensable and decisive feature of natural language, metaphor is so ubiquitous that no study of language can be complete without an adequate account of it.

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Weekly Radio Address delivered by American Presidents is a special kind of language report in that the Presidents, facing a great number of audiences at home and abroad, have to analyze the current issues and persuade listeners to support or accept 天 their ideas. America is a county largely propagating democracy and freedom, therefore, the President is placed on a high obligation to make his decisions open to the public. It should not be taken for granted that once winning the election and taking oaths in the inaugural address, the president can rest easy and relax himself forever. Weekly address serves as a channel for American president to communicate with people, strengthen his power and establish his image. In the address, either for political, cultural or economic, the main aim for the president is to win public support and acceptance; thus language choice and communication skills are of high necessity in achieving political persuasion. Charteris-Black (2004) once claimed that “Choice of language in general and metaphor in particular is essential to politicians overall pervasiveness.” (p.2). In other words, proper metaphors are of top priority in the well-formed radio addresses, which can not

A Study of Conceptual Metaphors in President Obama’s Weekly Radio Addresses

only get the speeches running smoothly, but add color to the language and make it easily accepted by the audience.

Barack Obama is the first black president in American history. So in order to consolidate his position, he should pay much more attention to strengthening his impression on people through public communication. The image of reliability, honesty, morality and integrity is essential to making sure his long-term success in politics. Taking the weekly addresses made by previous presidents into consideration, it is not difficult to confirm that metaphor is widely employed owing to its nature of vividness and persuasiveness. In addition, as a great art work of language, metaphor also contributes a lot to polishing President Obama’s speeches so as to avoid the risks of directly noting something unpleasant. So the relationship between politics and metaphor is like fish and water, just as Thompson (1996) once asserted that “politics without metaphors is like a fish without water” (p.185). In a word, metaphor and politics are closely related in one way or another. Without metaphor, politicians may encounter a lot of obstacles and troubles in expressing their ideas to the people; without metaphor, the strength of the political address will fade; without metaphor, human language will only serve a role of delivering information.

Take what Miller (1976) said as a summary, “metaphor is essential to political inquiry, because it permits us to extend our knowledge from our familiar world to a region that is not open to immediate experience…Metaphor is necessary to political knowledge precisely because the meaning and reality of the political world transcends what is open to observation” (p.457). Therefore, President Obama extensively applies metaphors in his weekly radio address in that they can help to explain complex political issues, and Obama in this way can persuade listeners to accept his ideas, and influence their interpretation as well.

1.2. Goal of the Study

Metaphor and politics are closely connected with each other. Weekly Radio address is a typical platform for the president conveying his political views and winning supports from the public. In the address, American president employs various tips, metaphor in particular, to make his speeches more accessible and powerful. In the past years, scholars both at home and abroad have made great efforts to study English political speeches in line with pragmatics, stylistics, rhetoric and syntax. But little


Chapter 1 Introduction

emphasis has been placed on analyzing President’ weekly radio address from the perspective of conceptual metaphor. Therefore the purpose of the present study is to further analyze it in terms of the metaphor. We are expected to solve such problems:

What kinds of metaphors are frequently selected in President Obama’s Weekly Radio Address?

What are the roles of metaphors in Weekly Radio Address?

How do metaphors reveal president Obama’s ideology meaning?

By discussing the above three aspects, the author intends to raise wider awareness of metaphors and finally comes to a conclusion that selection of metaphor is to satisfy or realize the purpose of the speakers, that is, identifying speaker with the whole audience.

1.3. Data and Method

The data in this paper is all Weekly Radio Addresses delivered by the current American President Barack Obama in 2010, from January 2nd to December 25th. These speeches mostly focus on discussing the important issues at home and abroad, and they are all downloaded from VOA website.

As the main purpose for this thesis is to analyze the radio addresses in terms of conceptual metaphor, identifying or selecting the metaphors out is of top priority in the process. With the development of linguistics and science, Gerard J. Steen and other ten linguists have introduced a five-step procedure for metaphor identification (2002b); they are 1) identification for metaphor focus; 2) identification of metaphor ideas; 3) identification of metaphor comparison; 4) identification of incomplete compositions; 5) identification of metaphor mapping. (Steen, 2002b, p.393). Therefore, based on their theory of metaphor identification as well as Lakoff and Johnson’s conceptual metaphor theory, the researcher will first select the conceptual metaphors from the data, and then classify them in groups for further discussion. Both quantitative and qualitative methods are used in the process of analysis, so that the conceptual metaphors, as well as their frequency and functions can be measured in details.

1.4. Organization of the Thesis

In general, the thesis consists of three parts, introduction, body and conclusion. The


A Study of Conceptual Metaphors in President Obama’s Weekly Radio Addresses

introduction is responsible for presenting the purpose and the macro-organization of the thesis. Some background information and the research tasks of the thesis are also included in this part.

The body is the main part in the study, including four chapters. Chapter 2 first presents the history of metaphor study and then mainly focuses on exploring the conceptual metaphor proposed by Lakoff and Johnson, including its categorization, working mechanism and systematicity. It comes to a conclusion that metaphor is pervasive in our daily conversation, no longer restricted in poetry language as before. Therefore, political language is also full of conceptual metaphors deserving our consideration and study. Chapter 3 gives a brief introduction to the Weekly Radio Address, and also explains its features and functions according to the varieties of public speaking. Chapter 4 discusses research design and research procedures. Conceptual metaphors from the weekly radio addresses delivered by president Obama in 2010 will be singled out and classified for special analysis. Then based on quantitative and qualitative methods, their discourse functions as well as frequency will meet careful investigation. Chapter 5 as the last chapter of the body mainly discusses the basis and the purpose for applying conceptual metaphors in radio address. That is, why should the prepared radio address choose metaphors to fulfill its goals?

At last, the conclusion part is a brief summary of the above five chapters and generally restates the findings of this study. Some limitations and future proposals are also mentioned for further research.


Chapter 2 Literature Review and Theoretical Basis

Chapter 2 Literature Review and Theoretical Basis

2.1. Previous Studies on Metaphor

2.1.1. A Brief History of Metaphor

No technical term or concept in linguistics as well as in any other science is born out of nothing. The notion of metaphor originates from the Greek word metapherein, “meta” means with or after (denoting sharing) and “pherein” means bring across. Although the researches on metaphor have a long history which can be traced back to Plato and Aristotle, a widely-accepted definition for metaphor has not come into being yet. In the era of Greek scholars like Aristotle, metaphor was only referred to here and there in the ocean of linguistic literature or poetry. At that period, western literacy, linguistics and critical traditions had been interested in the possibilities of differentiating between literal and figurative language. Aristotle, generally praised as a first thinker to elaborate the theory of metaphor, also classified language into rhetorical and common ones, and in his book Poetics (1951, p.71) he pointed out that “Metaphor is the application of an alien name by transference either from genus to species, or from species to genus, or from species to species, or by analogy, that is, proportion……. Analogy or proportion is when the second term is to the first as the fourth to the third. We may then use the fourth for the second, or the second for the fourth. Sometimes too we qualify the metaphor by adding the term to which the proper word is relative.”, which indicates that the greatest scholar here identified metaphor as a figure of speech, using the name of one thing to refer to the other. After that, his view on metaphor has been largely followed by rhetorical scholars who also regarded metaphor as “a displacement or an extension of the meaning of words” (Ricocur, 1978), or “an implied comparison of two different things” (Feng, 1983). In addition, they also emphasized that an eye for resemblance was essential in making a good metaphor, and metaphor itself could polish language, make language more charming and distinctive.

Later on, another slightly different view on metaphor, known as substitution, was proposed by the ancient Rome rhetorician Quintilian. It mainly stated that metaphor was formed by using one expression to substitute another equivalent literal expression (Lin Shuwu, 1997, pp.11-19). Therefore, both Aristotle and Quintilian have limited metaphor


A Study of Conceptual Metaphors in President Obama’s Weekly Radio Addresses

to lexical level, as a figure of speech no different from other rhetorical devices like synecdoche, metonymy and personification. But their main differences lie in that the former regarded resemblance or analogy as the essence of metaphor, while the latter shifted his attention to substitution or replacement.

From 1930s to 1960s, a new view called Interactive Theory was put forward by Ivan A. Richards, one of the founders of modern, psychologically based literary criticism, to examine the metaphorical property of human beings’ mind and action and the structure of metaphor. He claimed that “In the simplest formulation, when we use a metaphor we have two thoughts of different things active together and supported by a single word, or phrase, whose meaning is a resultant of their interaction”(Richards, 1936, p.89). Therefore, according to Richards, when researchers are trying to find out how the language works, they are actually studying human beings’ mechanism of thought, emotion and other brain activities. Compared with the above mentioned two theories, Interactive Theory is much better and more authentic in that it no longer limits metaphor at lexical level, but shifts to the way of thinking. What’s more, Richards has widened the researching field of metaphor, not just in rhetorical or poetry discourse but in our daily language including science discourse.

A new view of metaphor that challenged all these aspects of the powerful traditional theory in a coherent and systematical way was first developed by George Lakoff and Make Johnson in 1980 in their seminal study: Metaphors we live by. Their conception has become known as the “the cognitive linguistic view of metaphor.” Lakoff and Johnson challenged the deeply trenched view of metaphor by claiming that 1) metaphor is a property of concept, and not of words; 2) the function of metaphor is to better understand certain concepts, not just some artistic or esthetical purposes; 3) metaphor is often not based on similarity; 4) metaphor is used effortlessly in everyday life by ordinary people, not just by special talented people; and 5) metaphor, far from being a superfluous though pleasing linguistics ornament, is an inevitable process of human thought and reasoning (1980, p.3). They have been convinced that metaphor is pervasive both in thought and everyday language.

2.1.2. Definition of Metaphor

In terms of the several theories discussed above, it can be taken for granted that metaphor has witnessed a great revolution, from rhetorical devices at lexical level to


Chapter 2 Literature Review and Theoretical Basis

cognitive aspect as a way of thinking, and from poetry discourses to daily language. Its definition has also changed a lot: as in the ancient Greek, the word metaphor was defined as a novel or poetic linguistic expression where one or more words for a concept are used outside of its normal conventional meaning to express a similar concept; but since 1980s, the essence of metaphor has focused on cognition instead of comparison and the locus of metaphor is not in language at all, but in the way we conceptualize one mental domain in terms of another. Today, an increasing number of cognitive scientists, including cognitive linguists, are engaged in researches on metaphor. The reason is that metaphor study has extended to a much wider area, interrelating with human thought, understanding, and reasoning. Trying to understand metaphor, then, means attempting to understand a vital part of who we are and what kind of world we live in. So now one widely shared definition of metaphor is proposed by Lakoff and Johnson (1980): metaphor is not just a matter of language, that is, of mere words, but a cross-domain mapping in the conceptual system; the essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another; and metaphor is pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought and action (pp.3-5).

In addition, other scholars also put forward their ideas about metaphor. Metaphor is “characterized by the conceptualization of one cognitive domain in terms of component more usually associated with another cognitive domain” (Taylor, 1989, pp.132-133). Yu (1998) focuses on the mappings between the source domain between the target domain, stating that metaphor is “a conceptual mapping from a source domain to a target domain with both ontological correspondence and epistemic correspondence entailed by the mapping” (p.15). All the definitions indicate that metaphor is related to conceptual system and should be understood as a metaphorical concept.

2.2. Researches on Conceptual Metaphor

In cognitive linguistics, conceptual metaphor, or cognitive metaphor, refers to the understanding of one idea, or one conceptual domain, in terms of another. There are two main roles for the conceptual domains posited in conceptual metaphor: one is source domain, referring to the one from which we draw metaphorical expressions; and the other is target domain, referring to the conceptual domain that we try to understand. For


A Study of Conceptual Metaphors in President Obama’s Weekly Radio Addresses

example, in the metaphorical sentence “ARGUMENT IS WAR”, the word “war” is the source domain, while “argument” as the target domain; the concrete source domain is used here to better analyze the abstract target domain. Therefore, with the advent of cognitive linguistics, metaphor has witnessed a great revolution in getting access to the conceptual study. In this part, some researches on conceptual metaphor are to be discussed for the sake of theoretical basis.

2.2.1. Categorization of Conceptual Metaphor

Influenced by Michael Reddy’s Conduit Metaphor Theory (Reddy, 1979, pp.284-310) (He put forward that language functions like a conduit, transferring thoughts bodily from one person to another), Lakoff and Johnson in their cognitive theory of metaphor subdivided conceptual metaphor into three categories: structural metaphor, orientational metaphor, and ontological metaphor (1980, pp.93-112).

Structural metaphor refers to the type of conceptual metaphor in which a target domain is understood by reference to the structure of its source domain (Wang Yin, 2006, p.409). In terms of its definition, there are two components and two conditions that are essential to compose a structural metaphor. The source domain and the target domain are the two components that must be two different concepts, which satisfy the first condition. The second condition requires that the two unlike concepts should have something in common by which the structural metaphor adopts to illustrate and comprehend the concept of the target. Again take the expression “ARGUMENT IS WAR” for example:

Conceptual metaphor: ARGUMENT IS WAR Linguistic analysis: Your claims are indefensible;

His criticisms were right on target; I demolished his argument;

I’ve never won an argument with him;

He attacked every weak point in my argument.

(Wang Yin, 2006, 459) It can be seen from the example that the words like “claims” “criticisms” and “argument” used for describing argument can also collocate with such war-related words or expressions as “indefensible” “on target” “demolished” “won” and “attached”. So we can come to conclude that the concept ARGUMENT is metaphorically


Chapter 2 Literature Review and Theoretical Basis

constructed in terms of the concept WAR.

Ontological metaphor is another evidence to show that metaphor is not only a phenomenon of language but also a means of thinking and behavior, which is pervasive in our daily life (Wang Yin, 2006, p.410). The source domain in ontological metaphor always refers to those familiar things or objects in our world, which can be seen and touched easily, so we can know its function and qualities at the first sight, then it contributes to the comprehension and cognition of the target which is regarded as non-material or supernatural experience. Take the following sentence as an example.


Obviously, buildings are the most familiar thing that we see and have a direct contact every day, so their special qualities, such as the appearance, the foundation, the thickness, the possibility of construction, repair, destroy, collapse, etc., can be physically perceived. Therefore, arguments are metaphorically described as buildings, implying that a successful argument is similar to a good building based on careful preparations, firm foundations, good working skills and so on. Otherwise, it will be defeated. In terms of the ontological metaphor: ARGUMENTS ARE BUILDINGS, there arise many expressions as follows.

We need some facts or the argument will fail apart.

We need to construct a strong argument for that.

This is an argument, and it needs more foundation.

If you don’t support your argument with solid facts the whole thing will collapse.

Orientational metaphor, also called the spatialization metaphor, refers to a series of conceptual metaphors structured according to spatial orientation such as up-down, in-out, front-back, left-right and central-peripheral (Wang Yin, 2006, p.410). The specialty of the orientational metaphors is that they are not used in arbitrary but in a fixed way based on people’s experience and culture, and their cognitive job is to give an ontological status to general categories of abstract target concepts. For example,

Happy is up, sad is down.

I’m feeling up/down.

You are in high spirits.

He is really low these days.

The above four sentences prove that we can understand and express our feelings in


A Study of Conceptual Metaphors in President Obama’s Weekly Radio Addresses

terms of the simple spatial concept (like up and down), and the spatial concept itself is constructed from our experiences, that is, interactive with the physical environment. The physical words “up” “down” “high” and “low” here are no longer understood as the direction words as before, but used to explain and describe the non-physical phenomenon.

2.2.2. Working Mechanism of Conceptual Metaphor

In the past years, different linguists have formed different understandings on the working mechanism of conceptual metaphor, such as Richard and Black’ interaction theory (1936), Lakoff and Johnson’s mapping theory (1980) and Fauconnier’s conceptual blending theory (1996). Mapping theory will be singled out in this part for further discussion.

According to Lakoff and Johnson, there are two cognitive domains in the conceptual metaphor, the source and the target, and its working mechanism is to map the experiences of the source domain onto the relatively abstract target domain. They also reinforced that “metaphorical thought, in the form of cross-mappings is primary, metaphorical language is secondary” (1999, p.123). Fauconnier inherited Lakoff and Johnson’ cross-domain mappings, claiming that “mappings between domains are at the heart of the unique human cognitive faulty of producing, transferring and processing meaning” (1997, p.1). Mapping theory is widely applied in illustrating how the two parts or domains can be identified with each other. Take LIFE IS A JONRNEY for example; figure 1 shows the corresponding conceptual mappings between the source domain “JOURNEY” and the target domain “LIFE”:

Figure 2-1: Mapping Structure in LIFE IS A JONRNEY

Source domain



Point of departure





Target domain


Common people


Process of life


Goals in life



Chapter 2 Literature Review and Theoretical Basis

2.2.3. Systematicity of Conceptual Metaphor

According to Lakoff and Johnson, metaphorical concept is systematic as metaphor is to understand one concept in terms of another (1980, p.12). Based on the above analysis of the expression “ARGUMENT IS WAR”, it can be seen that such war-related words as indefensible, on target, demolished, won and attacked are used in a systematic way to describe the battling aspects of an argument. The conceptual features of war are partially transferred to those of argument, adding much color and vividness to the abstract word “ARGUMENT”. The analysis of “LIFE IS A JONRNEY” put forward by Lakoff also proves that full clusters of semantically-related words (the italic parts) are sometimes used with related metaphorical meanings. It goes as follows:

He got a head start in life.

He’s without direction in his life. I’m where I want to be in life. I’m at a crossroad in life.

He’ll go places in life.

He’s never let anyone in his way. He’s gone through a lot in life.

(Lakoff, 1993, p.19)

One aspect needs to be pointed out that the very systematicity allows people to comprehend one aspect of a concept in terms of another but meanwhile it also hides other aspects of the concept. Just as the above mentioned, the conceptual features are just partially not totally transferred from one domain to another. Some other features especially those inconsistent ones are not selected out for cross-mappings. For instance, “air battle”, “naval battle”, “radar-invading airplane”, “missile”, “field hospital” and “Military Area Command” are all under the vocabulary of war, but they are not chosen here to systematically depict the feature of argument.


A Study of Conceptual Metaphors in President Obama’s Weekly Radio Addresses

Chapter 3 Weekly Radio Addresses of the US


3.1. Introduction

The Weekly Radio Address is the weekly discussion of current events in the United States by the President. Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first U.S. president to deliver such radio addresses, and then in 1982, President Reagan revived the practice of delivering a weekly Saturday radio broadcast which is followed by all the other successors including President Barack Obama right now (Wikipedia). It is a typical and important kind of discourse, as in the speech, the President usually announces many newly-emerged domestic or international issues, attracting public’ attention and responses. The address embraces a lot of useful and fresh information, ranging from politics, economics, culture, education, military service, to health care, etc..

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Since Barack Obama made his inaugural address on January 20th, 2009 as a new President in America, his weekly addresses have continued on the White House website, showing his concern on America as well as the whole world. So it can be taken for granted that the weekly address is of great necessity either for the President who can build up his public image, or for the American people who can in this way enhance their vigilance and take current problems into further consideration.

3.2. Varieties of Public Speaking

The Weekly Radio Addresses made my U.S. president can be perceived as a sort of public speaking for the audience around the world. Therefore, the varieties of public speaking are necessary to be mentioned here to illustrate the features of Weekly Address.

In accordance with their general purposes, speeches usually can be classified into four categories: to inform, to persuade, to entertain, and to stimulate.

3.2.1. Informative Speech

Information or information transition plays an important role in the development process of human society. In the ancient time, people could not have developed themselves without sharing information or drawing on the experiences of others. In


Chapter 3 Weekly Radio Addresses of the US Presidents

addition, people in the modern world often consider information as a kind of power, bringing a lot of physical property and mental legacy. One of the major purposes for human communication is to collect, exchange and share information with each other, and so is public speaking. As for this type of speech, the speaker is required to convey information, or in other words, to keep the audience informed of something important and teach them how to deal with it. For instance, President Obama once started his radio address with a matter of doctors’ pay cuts aiming to keep people informed of its real reason and effect:

More than a decade ago, Congress set up a formula that governs how doctors get paid by the Medicare program. The intent was to slow the growth of Medicare costs, but the result was a formula that has proposed cutting payments for America’s doctors year after year after year. These are cuts that would not only jeopardize our physicians’ pay, but our seniors’ health care. Since 2003, Congress has acted to prevent these pay cuts from going into effect. These votes were largely bipartisan, and they succeeded when Democrats ran Congress and when Republicans ran Congress – which was most of the time. (12th, June, 2010)

The above paragraph is a typical example of informative speech in Obama’s weekly radio addresses. Furthermore, in the process of delivering speech, such techniques as discussion, explanation, illustration and description are of great help in ensuring that the audience can bear what the speaker said in mind and then really put them into practice.

3.2.2. Persuasive Speech

The purpose of this type of speech is to influence or change audience’s attitudes, beliefs, values, feelings, etc. or to persuade them to take some action. In ancient Greek, a famous scholar, Aristotle in his book Rhetoric and Politics (1954) once pointed out a reasoning formula known as the “syllogism”, in which ethos, pathos and logos were identified as the three criteria for achieving a successful argumentative speech. “Ethos” means the persuasive appeal of one’s character, especially how his character is established by means of the speech and discourse. It is a vital factor in determining whether the speech enjoys a persuasive power or not, as only an ethical and honest speaker could present a truthful argument and win the audience’s approval. “Pathos” is


A Study of Conceptual Metaphors in President Obama’s Weekly Radio Addresses

another communication technique and means persuading by appealing to the readers or listeners’ emotions. So in order to make the argument attractive enough, the speaker needs to have deep passion when delivering the speech. “Logos” stands for the appeal to reason. It is harder to argue against the argument built on reason and solid ground; and such arguments make the speaker look prepared and knowledgeable to the audience, which can in turn enhance the power of “ethos”. All the above mentioned three factors are of great necessity in improving the speaker’s persuasive ability when making a public speech. President Obama’s radio address on 12th, June will be selected here once more for analysis:

I’m absolutely willing to take the difficult steps necessary to lower the cost of Medicare and put our budget on a more fiscally sustainable path. But I’m not willing to do that by punishing hard-working physicians or the millions of Americans who count on Medicare. That’s just wrong. And that’s why in the short-term, Congress must act to prevent this pay cut to doctors. If they don’t act, doctors will see a 21% cut in their Medicare payments this week. This week, doctors will start receiving these lower reimbursements from the Medicare program. That could lead them to stop participating in the Medicare program. And that could lead seniors to lose their doctors. (12th, June, 2010)

In persuading Congress to draft a plan to prevent doctors’ pay cut, President Obama first defines himself as a man full of sympathy, love and considerateness by putting on the shoes of physicians and the millions of Americans, and then presents several reasons to consolidate his argument. So “ethos”, “pathos” and “logos” are all skillfully used in this persuasive part.

3.2.3. Entertaining Speech

As the name suggests, this type of speech is just to bring some entertainment or amusement to the audience rather than to arouse any serious response. It is


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