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Metaphor Lab Amsterdam

Group coordinator


  • Gerard Steen (ACLC), senior researcher, coordinator 
  • Corina Andone, José Plug, Jean Wagemans; Christian Burgers and Tina Krennmayr (VUA); Marianna Bolognesi (Oxford University), senior researchers
  • Giulia Frezza (ACLC), post-doc on Gerard Steen’s Metaforiek en dementie project, April 2018 – December 2018
  • Roosmaryn Pilgram (ACLC), post-doc on Gerard Steen’s Resistance to metaphor project, subproject: “Testing resistance to metaphor”, January 2017 – January 2019
  • Lotte van Poppel (ACLC), post-doc on Gerard Steen’s Resistance to metaphor project, subproject: “Modeling resistance to metaphor”, January 2017 – January 2019
  • Andreas Finsen (ACLC), PhD candidate on Gerard Steen’s Resistance to metaphor project, subproject: “Resistance to metaphor in science”, September 2016 – August 2020;
  • Romy van den Heerik (ACLC), PhD candidate in ‘Figurative Framing’ theme, subproject: “Exploiting deliberate metaphor for co-creation”, September 2015 – September 2020;
  • Fu Jie (ACLC), PhD candidate, in Gerard Steen’s Deliberate metaphor theme, subproject: “Metaphor and aphasia”, September 2016 – August 2020;
  • Saskia Leymann, (ACLC), PhD candidate, subproject: “The sound of political irony”, February 2019 – January 2023
  • Kiki Renardel de Lavalette (ACLC), PhD candidate on Gerard Steen’s Resistance to metaphor project, subproject: “Resistance to metaphor in politics”, September 2016 – August 2020;
  • Dunja Wackers (ACLC), PhD candidate on Gerard Steen’s Resistance to metaphor project, subproject: “Resistance to metaphor in public cancer discourse September 2016 – August 2020


Metaphor Lab Amsterdam is an interuniversity research group, mainly between UvA and VU University Amsterdam, which aims to describe, explain and apply variation in metaphor use by examining various linguistic and discourse constraints with the help of a variety of methods and techniques. The lab has five themes, ranging from Deliberate Metaphor Theory and Variation in Metaphor through Metaphor and Multimodality to Figurative Framing and Metaphor and Argumentation. Apart from the projects listed above at UvA, projects outside UvA include an NWO ZonMW program on ‘Dementia in metaphors’ (Gert Olthuis, Anke Oerlemans, RUN), with a metaphor identification project across five languages in NL, a PhD project linked to an NWO Veni program on ‘Figurative framing in political discourse’ (Amber Boeynaems, with Christian Burgers and Gerard Steen), an NWO Vidi program on ‘Contemporary political satire’ (Christian Burgers, VU), with two PhD projects: Ellen Droog, “Humorous metaphors in political satire”, and Britta Brugman, “Contemporary political satire: Medium, language and impact”; and an NWO Promoties in de geesteswetenschappen project ‘Resolving distortions in semantic spaces defined by words by analysing relations between word, sense and reference’ (Pia Sommerauer, with Piek Vossen and Gerard Steen).

Research highlights in 2018

Gudrun Reijnierse successfully developed and tested a method for the identification of metaphors that are used deliberately as metaphors, as opposed to those that are simply used because they are part of all language use. Explicit figurative comparisons, such as ’Football is war’ or ‘Brexit is like a divorce’ count as deliberate metaphors, whereas ‘Wilders attacked Rutte’ does not. Research on a relatively large samepl of language use showed that no more than 5% of all metaphors is used deliberately, making people literally think of one thing in terms of something else.

Sandra van der Hel found that the famous tipping point metaphor for climate change experienced a complex course of development: it started out as a deliberate warning signal from scientists to the general public; then became a generally popular but still metaphorical way of thinking about climate change in the media; then turned into a deliberately metaphorical model for further scientific research attempting to find out hwether we were reaching or had already crossed various tipping points in climate change; and finaly also became a way of speaking about all this in public discourse without much recourse anymore to the underlying metaphorical mapping. This suggests that metaphors are not just one precise form of corss-domain compasrisonbut can be epxloited for various purposes and to various effects by different discourse participants at different points in time.

Kiki Renardel de Lavalette found that British politicans occasionally make use of figurative analogies in their discussion of proposal for new bills, and that such metaphorical language use can elicit resistance in various ways. Her research showed that various aspects of both language use and discourse situation need to be taken into account to describe precisely what is between interlocutors, showing how fast political argumentation can still make effective use of complex metaphorical structures of thinking.


Every year, the Metaphor Lab organizes the Metaphor Festival, a conference on the use of figurative language and other modes of figurative expression.
Bi-weekly research meetings are held on Tuesday mornings from 9 – 11 AM (see calendar on the Metaphor Lab website).

More information about the Metaphor Lab Amsterdam can be found at The center is a joint venture of the Network Institute at VU University Amsterdam and the Amsterdam Center for Language and Communication at the University of Amsterdam and Amsterdam Brain and Cognition (ABC).