Mixing Memory

Raymond Gibbs Jr. Comment on Metaphor

Raymond Gibbs Jr., psycholinguist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, one of the principle adherents of cognitive linguistics and conceptual metaphor theory, was kind enough to leave a comment at the post “Idioms, Metaphors, and Lakoff, Oh My!.” Dr. Gibbs’ book, The Poetics of Mind: Figurative Thought, Language, and Understanding is a must read for anyone interested in cognitive linguistics. Among psychologists, Dr. Gibbs has done more, emprically and theoretically, to support conceptual metaphor theory than anyone else I know (Arthur Glenberg might compete, but his work is more concerned with other issues — see this paper, for example). For that reason, and in the interest of fairness, I thought I should put his comment in a place where it can be more widely read. Here is the comment, in its entirety:

For the sake of accuracy, I think it a terrible injustice to claim that the idea of metaphoric representations is dead within cognitive science. Although my 1994 book,
“The poetics of mind: Figurative thought, language, and understanding” may be “out of date,” the work described there from cognitive psychology and linguistics is indeed still relevant. Of course, there are those that disagree with the idea of “metaphoric thought,” but here too, there is still a huge amount of evidence from various areas of cognitive science to support many of the claims about conceptual metaphor offered by Lakoff and others. To give just one instance, the claim that conventional metaphors are understood “literally” is completely wrong and there is lots of psycholinguistic work to support this position.

I urge readers of this blog to take a look at my most recent book “Embodiment and cognitive science” for a strong defense of embodied cognition, with some discussion of embodied conceptual metaphors in there as well.

The reality of the debates over conceptual metaphor theory is far more complicated than is seen in the argument between Lakoff and Pinker in their discussion of politics. Regardless of whatever readers of this blog may feel about that debate, take the time to read more deeply about conceptual metaphor and a more nuanced, positive picture of that theory may emerge.

Cheers

Ray

I will say a couple things in response. The first is that my “out of date” comment about Dr. Gibbs’ book (in another post) was meant to refer specifically to research on dead metaphors. Much work has been done on the subject since Gibbs’ book was published in 1994, because dead metaphors have important implications for the two leading theories of metaphor in cognitive psychology: structure mapping and Sam Glucksberg’s categorization theory. Where Dr. Gibbs and I disagree, then, is about the status of dead metaphors. I think it’s pretty clear from the empirical research that they are, in fact, dead. In other words, they don’t involve metaphorical mappings between the base and target domains, as conceptual metaphor theory and Dr. Gibbs, suggest. I suppose one could argue that this does not automatically imply that dead metaphors are interpreted “literally,” since the categories they envoke were created metaphorically. Still, one thing is for sure: they are no longer metaphors in the sense that one domain is actively mapped onto, and structured by another domain. Furthermore, the metaphors have become lexicalized, so that the frequent use of the metaphor has created new stored (in the hed) meanings for the terms involved.

Dr. Gibbs’ most important point, though, is that these issues are complex, and there is still debate, even if I (and others) feel like the issue is pretty much solved. With that in mind, I think I’ll write a few posts on dead metaphors and related issues, with the hopes of clearing up where I think things stand.

Comments

  1. #1 Todd
    November 2, 2006

    Thanks for posting Ray’s comments (and for providing your own input on the matter). Would love to see additional posts on metaphors.

  2. #2 Shane
    November 4, 2006

    Though I am expecting to see (and enjoy) some attacks on conceptual metaphor theory I would really be interested to see your positive comments as well. I maybe wrong, but deep down Chris, I think you have a guilty pleasure for cognitive linguistics. Most psychologists don’t care, mainly due to the lack of evidence, but all your posting on the topic suggests there is something their ideas which can contribute to our understanding of concepts?

    I would also be interested to see your take on Casasanto’s most recent work – I think you mentioned his work before, but there is a follow up to his original set of studies showing space-time mappings, which used different languages and spatial conceptual metaphors (distance vs volume) for understanding time. Its not published in a journal yet, but is described in the most recent paper on his website. This body of work seems to provide the best evidence yet in this area. Like you, I was never convinced by Boroditsky’s work.

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    August 7, 2009

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