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  • Print publication year: 2017
  • Online publication date: July 2017

4 - Metaphorical Directionality: The Role of Language

from Part I - Metaphor in Cognition


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Verbal metaphors are fundamentally directional. For example, people commonly refer to social relations in term of temperature (e.g. “She is a warm person”), but the inverse metaphors in which we talk about temperature in terms of social relations are not usually found. Conceptual Metaphor Theory (Lakoff & Johnson 1980, 1999) attributes this directionality to an underlying unidirectional “conceptual mapping” between the respective domains, rooted in our bodily experience. However, recent psycho-physical experiments have shown these conceptual associations to be bidirectional: Not only can manipulations of an individual’s experience of physical warmth affect that individual’s judgment of another person or situation as friendly or unfriendly, the reverse is also true, as thinking about a friendly or unfriendly social situation can alter an individual’s judgment of room temperature. To account for this discrepancy, we propose that (i) verbal (unidirectional) metaphors rely on a pre-linguistic, non-directional, association between the two domains and that (ii) language plays an essential role in rendering this association into a directional target–source relation.