Mixing Memory

Conceptual Metaphor Comment by Dr. Gibbs

In the previous entry, I made some disparaging remarks about conceptual metaphor theory (CMT), and George Lakoff specifically. I also noted that, in my experience,, the psycholinguist Raymond Gibbs, Jr. is the only one in the cognitive linguistics who seriously addresses the evidence and theoretical arguments against CMT from outside cognitive linguistics. As he’s done before, Dr. Gibbs dropped by and left a lengthy response in the comments, which I’m reposting here in its entirety (edited to remove some HTML problems, but not for content). At the end there is a long list of citations. I highly recommend checking them out if you are interested in these issues. Also, his book on the “metaphor wars” sounds very interesting. I will be sure to post an announcement here when it is published. – Chris

Chris:

I have always enjoyed my occasional visits to “Mixing memory” for the informative and entertaining posts offered here on different aspects of cognitive science. This morning post on “What’s the conceptual metaphor for disingenuous” is no exception, especially since I am currently writing a book on “Metaphor wars: Conceptual metaphor and cognitive science” which aims to offer a balanced assessment of conceptual metaphor theory. Of course, blogs on the internet written by an anonymous author is very different from a typical forum for academic debate, and thus I am happy to give you much leeway in what you say and how you say it when talking about different topics, including conceptual metaphor and the people who study it.

But I again feel compelled to take great issue with the statement(s) that there is no empirical evidence supporting the existence of conceptual metaphors. My aim in sending this note is not to broadcast my own ideas and work, but to at least suggest to readers of “Mixing memory” that your description of the (lack of) evidence on conceptual metaphor theory is just simply wrong. To be horribly brief, the hypothesis that there may be enduring metaphorical concepts, or conceptual metaphors, that play an important role in how people think and use language may be very roughly broken down into a series of more specific claims.

1. Conceptual metaphors provide some of the motivation for the evolution of language, especially how various words and phrases acquire the metaphorical meanings they do.

2. Conceptual metaphors motivate why contemporary language has very specific patterns of metaphorical conventional expressions, novel extensions, polysemy, certain textual organization, and gesture.

3. Conceptual metaphor motivates aspects of contemporary speakers’ knowledge in long-term memory (i.e., structuring many abstract concepts) that motivates their tacit understandings of why various words, phrases, and texts convey the figurative meanings they do.

4. Conceptual metaphors are part of contemporary speakers’ knowledge in long-term memory that is immediately recruited (i.e., accessed or activated) during online metaphorical language production and comprehension, as well as different reasoning tasks.

5. Conceptual metaphors arise from recurring patterns of bodily experience and have neural substrates that shape certain abstract thought and language use.

Ok, these are some lofty ideas, but it is important to note that conceptual metaphor theory (CMT) is not one grandiose theory but makes some very specific, and testable claims. Hypotheses 1 and 2 are best examined through detailed linguistic analyses, including corpora studies, and I think it is fair to say that there are at least 500 studies, from widely different languages, and from diverse knowledge domains that are seen as supporting aspects of these three general ideas. Many scholars within cognitive science question claims about thought and online language processing based on linguistic analyses alone (although see below), and so I won’t for purposes of this post try and cite all of these (but see “Cognitive Linguistics Bibliography CD-ROM” from Mouton de Gruyter for many citations of these studies).

On the other hand, hypotheses 3 though 5 are best explored via the indirect methods of cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics (as well as computational modeling and neuroscience studies). And it is again fair to say, in my view, that there is plenty of evidence, employing a wide variety of experimental methods, out there to support these ideas. At the of these post, I list some of the published studies that claim to be consistent with aspects of hypotheses 3 though 5 (please excuse any that I have left out- I through these together in a few minutes given what I had on hand, one reason why there are so many written by me). The books I cite early on below provide partial summaries of these studies.

Now the fact that these articles appear in some of the very best, most respected journals in cognitive psychology and cognitive science does not imply that the studies or theories argued for are necessarily right or provide a completely truthful description of the human mind. There are indeed psychologists and others who have advanced contrary points of view or taken specific issue with aspects of the different studies cited here. I am sure that there will be continuing debate on these claims. But the assertion that “there really is no experimental evidence for conceptual metaphor theory” (as Chris writes) is completely indefensible.

I must also urge readers to seriously consider the linguistic evidence. At the very least, the incredible, systematic patterns of metaphoricity (across words, phrases, and entire linguistic expressions) noted in virtually every language studied requires SOME explanation- a responsibility that is rejected by too many metaphor scholars within psycholinguistics and cognitive science. There are plenty of debates in cognitive science related to important issues on language and thought relationships (e.g., the recent one on the Piraha language being one of these), where scholars take the linguistic evidence seriously. I maintain that the vastness of metaphoric language and its implications for metaphorical thoughts (and embodied groundings of language and thought) deserve the same respect.

Chris is completely right when he writes that ideas about converging evidence have a long history, well before the claims about converging evidence in favor of conceptual metaphor theory made by Lakoff, Johnson and others. But let’s give credit to cognitive linguists like Lakoff and Johnson for alerting researchers in non-cognitive science disciplines (e.g., those in the humanities where there is a lot of interest in metaphor) to the necessity of converging evidence in evaluating claims about conceptual metaphor and related notions from cognitive linguistics. In fact, the writings of Lakoff, Johnson and others have introduced a whole generation of young scholars, like Michael Kimmel, to the importance of different kinds of empirical evidence in making claims about the human mind. This has led younger scholars to pay more attention to empirical methods and the work done in cognitive psychology and neuroscience, which I believe we can all agree, is a very good thing. So let’s not belittle these important methodological efforts on the part of people like Lakoff and others.

Finally, let’s talk about the selling of snake oil. I personally know all the people Chris refers to in his “What’s the conceptual metaphor for disingenuous” post and can attest that these are incredibly smart, passionate, dedicated scholars who are by no means “selling snake oil,” as if they do not believe or care about what they are doing. People can disagree with the ideas and empirical evidence (if they bother to look at it) advanced by people working on conceptual metaphor theory. People can even disparage a scholar like Lakoff for daring to be a “public intellectual” who believes his work and those in the cognitive linguistic/science movement have broad application to our real lives (e.g., the world of Politics and what people we citizens elect to run our governments). And people may just not like certain scholars within our fields for the way they write, talk, dress, act or even post comments on some blog-site. But calling these serious scholars of mind snake oil salesmen is just downright cruel and unnecessary.

The topic of why conceptual metaphor theory arouses such vehemence is one that greatly interests me and is again the subject of my in progress book. My own opinion is that conceptual metaphor theory, and other related ideas from cognitive linguistics are threatening to traditional scholars because it is contrary to prevailing, enduring beliefs that the mind is literal and disembodied. Put simply, many cognitive scientists could not continue to work in the ways they do if they embraced some of these alternative views. Might this be the reason why some scholars seem resistant to looking at the real evidence?

Thanks again for the great blogs here.

All the best

Ray Gibbs
UC Santa Cruz

Some relevant empirical/experimental evidence on conceptual metaphor theory (in random order)

Gibbs, R. (1994). The poetics of mind: Figurative thought, language, and understanding.
New York: Cambridge University Press.

Gibbs, R. (2006). Embodiment and cognitive science. New York: Cambridge University
Press.

Gibbs, R. (Ed.) (in press). Cambridge handbook of metaphor and thought. New
York: Cambridge University Press.

Katz, A., Cacciari, C., Gibbs, R., & Turner, M. (1998). Figurative language and
thought. New York: Oxford University Press.

Feldman, G. (2006). From molecules to metaphors: A neural theory of language.
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Gibbs, R., & Nayak, N. (1989). Psycholinguistic studies on the syntactic behavior
of idioms. Cognitive Psychology, 21, 100-138.

Gibbs, R., Nayak, N., Bolton, J., & Keppel, M. (1989). Speakers’ assumptions about
the lexical flexibility of idioms. Memory & Cognition, 16, 58-68.

Gibbs, R., Nayak, N., & Cutting, C. (1989). How to kick the bucket and not
decompose: Analyzability and idiom processing. Journal of Memory
and Language, 28, 576-593.
Gibbs, R. (1990). Psycholinguistic studies on the conceptual basis of idiomaticity.
Cognitive Linguistics, 1, 417-451.

Gibbs, R., & O’Brien, J. (1990). Idioms and mental imagery: The metaphorical
motivation for idiomatic meaning. Cognition, 36, 35-68.

Nayak, N., & Gibbs, R. (1990). Conceptual knowledge in the interpretation of idioms.
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 119, 315-330.

Gibbs, R., & Nayak, N. (1991). Why idioms mean what they do. Journal of
Experimental Psychology: General, 120, 93-95.

Gibbs, R. (1992). What do idioms really mean? Journal of Memory and Language,
31, 485-506.

Gibbs, R. (1992). Categorization and metaphor understanding. Psychological Review,
99, 572-577.

Gibbs, R., Beitel, D., Harrington, M., & Sanders, P. (1994). Taking a stand on the
meanings of stand: Bodily experience as motivation for polysemy. Journal
of Semantics, 11, 231-251.

Gibbs, R., & Beitel, D. (1995). What proverb understanding reveals about
how people think? Psychological Bulletin, 118, 133-154.

Gibbs, R., & Colston, H. (1995). The cognitive psychological reality of image
schemas and their transformations. Cognitive Linguistics, 6, 347-378.

Gibbs, R. (1996). Why many concepts are metaphorical. Cognition, 61, 309-319.

Gibbs, R., Colston, H., & Johnson, M. (1996). Proverbs and the metaphorical mind.
Metaphor and Symbolic Activity, 11, 207-216.

Gibbs, R., Bogdonovich, J., Sykes, J., & Barr, D. (1997). Metaphor in idiom comprehension. Journal of Memory and Language, 37, 141-154.

Pfaff, K., Gibbs, R., & Johnson, M. (1997). Metaphor in using and understanding
euphemisms and dysphemisms. Applied Psycholinguistics, 18, 59-83.

Gibbs, R., Strom, L., & Spivey-Knowlton, M. (1997). Conceptual metaphor in mental
imagery for proverbs. Journal of Mental Imagery, 21, 83-110.

Gibbs, R., & Bogdonovich, J. (1999). Mental imagery in interpreting poetic metaphor.
Metaphor and Symbol, 14, 37-44.

Gibbs, R., & Franks, H. (2002). Embodied metaphors in womens’ narratives about
their experiences with cancer. Health Communication, 14, 139-165.

Gibbs, R., Lima, P., & Francuzo. E. (2004). Metaphor is grounded in embodied
experience. Journal of Pragmatics, 36, 1189-1210.

Gibbs, R. (2006). Metaphor interpretation as embodied simulation. Mind & Language,
21, 434-458.

Gibbs, R., Gould, J., & Andric, M. (2006). Imagining metaphorical actions:
Embodied simulations make the impossible plausible. Imagination, Cognition, & Personality, 25, 221-238.

Gibbs, R., & Nascimento, S. (1996). How we talk when we talk about love:
Metaphorical concepts and understanding love poetry. In R. Kreuz & M. MacNealy (Eds.), Empirical approaches to literature and aesthetics. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Gallese, V., & Lakoff, G. (2005). The brain�s concepts� The role of sensory-motor
system in conceptual knowledge. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 22, 455-479.

Matlock, T, Ramscar, M., & Boroditsky, L. (2005). The experiential link between spatial
and temporal language. Cognitive Science, 29, 655-664.

McGlone, M.S., & Harding, J.L. (1998). Back (or forward?) to the future: The role of perspective in temporal language comprehension. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition, 24, 1211-1223.

Langston, W. (2002). Violating orientational metaphor slows reading.
Discourse P rocesses, 34, 281-310.
Allbritton, D., McKoon, G., & Gerrig, R. (1995). Metaphor-based schemas and text representation: Making connections through conceptual metaphors. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 21 (3), 612-625.

Gentner, D., Imai, M., & Boroditsky, L. (2002). As time goes by: Evidence for two systems in processing space-time metaphors. Language and Cognitive Processes, 17 (5), 537-565.
Boroditsky, L., & Ramscar, M. (2002). The roles of body and mind in abstract thought.
Psychological Science, 13, 185-189.

Casasanto, D. (2007). When is a Linguistic Metaphor a Conceptual Metaphor?
In V. Evans & S. Pourcel (Eds.), New Directions in Cognitive Linguistics.
Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Casasanto, D. & Lozano, S. ( 2007). The Cognitive Function of Metaphorical Gestures.
In A. Cienki & C. M�ller (Eds.), Metaphor and Gesture. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Comments

  1. #1 Clark
    June 19, 2007

    Interesting. BTW – I just started Dr. Gibb’s book on embodiment and cognitive science. I’m enjoying it thus far.

  2. #2 Apple iPod touch
    February 25, 2010

    Gallese, V., & Lakoff, G. (2005). The brain�s concepts� The role of sensory-motor
    system in conceptual knowledge. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 22, 455-479.

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.