ACLC seminar | Professor Gerard Steen (UvA)
Taking metaphor from language to communication and back
Gerard Steen, professor of Language and Communication, ACLC, UvA, is the guest speaker at this ACLC seminar.
In this talk I will demonstrate how metaphor in language and metaphor in communication (in the sense of ‘discourse’) can be usefully distinguished from each other as well as related to each other. I will do so by analysing the opening paragraphs of an article from Time magazine:
Imagine your brain as a house filled with lights. Now imagine someone turning off the lights one by one. That's what Alzheimer's disease does. It turns off the lights so that the flow of ideas, emotions and memories from one room to the next slows and eventually ceases. And sadly--as anyone who has ever watched a parent, a sibling, a spouse succumb to the spreading darkness knows--there is no way to stop the lights from turning off, no way to switch them back on once they've grown dim. At least not yet.
But sooner than one might have dared hope, predicts Harvard University neurologist Dr. Dennis Selkoe, Alzheimer's disease will shed the veneer of invincibility that makes it such a terrifying affliction. Medical practitioners, he believes, will shortly have on hand not one but several drugs capable of slowing, and perhaps even halting, the disease's progress. Best of all, a better understanding of the genetic and environmental risk factors will lead to earlier diagnosis, so that patients will receive treatment before their brains start to fade.
I will suggest that metaphor in language is most commonly analysed as a matter of words in utterances, whereas metaphor in communication is more fruitfully seen as a matter of utterances in discourse. These are two levels of aggregation of meaning-making whose connection raises all sorts of questions that are not limited to metaphor research. I would like to illustrate some of these issues by doing a multi-dimensional structural-functional analysis of the excerpt in order to point to suggestions for possible future work and collaboration within the ACLC.
This is a modestly formal approach which can be used for corpus work in order to examine the distribution of structures and functions of metaphor in language and communication, as well as the constraints on their variation. Predictions can be derived that can be connected in various ways to current corpus research on metaphor across languages and discourse events and their documents. But my approach is also intended to yield a cognitive model of various aspects of the metaphors in this excerpt in terms of the variation in language and communication (or discourse) processes, also with constraints on their variation. Predictions can be derived that can be connected in various ways to current processing research, from neuro-cognitive research with ERPs through computational models of eye-movements and reading times to depth of processing, knowledge and attitude formation and change in persuasion research and memory for text in cognitive psychology. Assumptions about theories and methods are clearly needed for doing all this work and reveal further issues for discussion. Metaphor may hence be an interesting, generally understandable case for connecting various interests in several quarters within the ACLC community.
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