Conceptual metaphor

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In cognitive linguistics, conceptual metaphor, or cognitive metaphor, refers to the understanding of one idea, or conceptual domain, in terms of another, for example, understanding quantity in terms of directionality (e.g. "prices are rising"). A conceptual domain can be any coherent organization of human experience. The regularity with which different languages employ the same metaphors, which often appear to be perceptually based, has led to the hypothesis that the mapping between conceptual domains corresponds to neural mappings in the brain [1]

This idea, and a detailed examination of the underlying processes, was first extensively explored by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson in their work Metaphors We Live By. Other cognitive scientists study subjects similar to conceptual metaphor under the labels "analogy" and "conceptual blending".

Conceptual metaphors are seen in language in our everyday lives. Conceptual metaphors shape not just our communication, but also shape the way we think and act. In George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s work, Metaphors We Live By (1980), we see how everyday language is filled with metaphors we may not always notice. An example of one of the commonly used conceptual metaphors is argument as war.[2] This metaphor shapes our language in the way we view argument as war or as a battle to be won. It is not uncommon to hear someone say "He won that argument" or "I attacked every weak point in his argument". The very way argument is thought of is shaped by this metaphor of arguments being war and battles that must be won. Argument can be seen in many other ways other than a battle, but we use this concept to shape the way we think of argument and the way we go about arguing.

Conceptual metaphors are used very often to understand theories and models. A conceptual metaphor uses one idea and links it to another to better understand something. For example, the conceptual metaphor of viewing communication as a conduit is one large theory explained with a metaphor. So not only is our everyday communication shaped by the language of conceptual metaphors, but so is the very way we understand scholarly theories. These metaphors are prevalent in communication and we do not just use them in language; we actually perceive and act in accordance with the metaphors.



There are two main roles for the conceptual domains posited in conceptual metaphors:

  • Source domain: the conceptual domain from which we draw metaphorical expressions (e.g., love is a journey).
  • Target domain: the conceptual domain that we try to understand (e.g., love is a journey).

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