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  • Print publication year: 2001
  • Online publication date: October 2009

6 - Metaphor in American Sign Language: The Double Mapping



The crucial insight of conceptual metaphor theory (e.g., Lakoff 1992, Lakoff & Johnson 1980, Lakoff & Turner 1989) is that metaphor is not a rare, poetic device; it is not limited to formal or colorful speech or to artistic language. Rather, people use metaphors all the time in everyday speech; in fact, there are some topics that are almost impossible to discuss without metaphor.

For example, consider how English speakers talk about communication; sentences 1 through 6 are typical:

We were tossing some ideas back and forth.

I couldn't catch what you said.

That went right by me.

I couldn't get my point across.

I can't get that idea into my head.

I finally got through to him.

These completely natural and commonplace sentences all share one thing: They use the vocabulary of throwing and catching objects to talk about communicating ideas.

In fact, one can set up a single coherent system of correspondences between the conceptual domains of sending objects and communicating ideas that would explain every one of these sentences; such a system, or mapping, is presented in Table 6.1. The domain to which the language literally refers is usually called the source domain, and the metaphorically represented domain is called the target. All of the metaphorical sentences above (and many more; see, e.g., Reddy 1979, Sweetser 1987) are predictable from the mapping in Table 6.1.