Zoltan Kövecses, Where Metaphors Come From: Reconsidering context in metaphor. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. Pp. xiii-197. ISBN 978-01-9022-486-8
Reviewed by Teodora Popescu, 1 Decembrie 1918 University of Alba Iulia
The latest book by Zoltan Kövecses brings forth the issue of the influence of context on how metaphors are created, perceived and used. Kövecses further refines his previous theories concerning the interrelatedness between language and culture, by strengthening the fact that the conceptual metaphor theory (CMT) has gained solid ground lately, and that at this moment it is undoubtedly acknowledged that “the human conceptual system is heavily metaphorical in nature and that we use metaphors spontaneously and with ease in the course of everyday communication” (Kövecses 2015:ix). However, he explains that despite its having been worldwide embraced, there exist some critical reactions to the CMT, especially due to the fact that it lacks the integration of context and its dynamics into its model of metaphorical meaning making, as it happens in the case of pragmatics or other social sciences. There have been attempts at demonstrating the importance of context (Gibbs 1987, 1994, 2012, in particular) in repositioning the conceptual metaphor theory (CMT).
The main aim of the book is thus to revise the research carried out so far on context in general, and to respond to critical perspectives on CMT, by providing a personal framework of analysis which integrates the “dependence of the metaphorical mind on the surrounding physical, social, and mental environment” (Kövecses 2015:xi).
The book is structured into four thematic units (introduction into the figurative mind; the relationship between metaphor production and understanding and context; the impact of processes and concepts on metaphorical conceptualisation; the interplay of metaphorical conceptualisation and contextual factors, all four further divided into 10 chapters.
Chapter 1, Metaphor, Embodiment and Context deals with the issue of metaphorical meaning construction, which is not simply the result of metaphorical mappings and the implied entailments of conceptual metaphors; it is actually dependent on two context-based perspectives, one of “the person who tries to comprehend a metaphor in context (conceptualizer 2)” and the other of “the person who produces or creates a metaphor in context (conceptualizer 1)” (Kövecses 2015:1).
The second chapter, Meaning Making tackles the roles played by cognitive (or construal) operations, i.e. building or acquiring a conventional conceptual system to help us conceptualise experience (meaning-making mechanisms), and second, interpreting and conceptualising new experience which contributes to further changes in our conceptual system. Out of the construal operations (as classified by Langaker 2008) only those which are directly linked to abstract concepts are described: schematisation, abstractisation, attention, perspective (subjectivity – objectivity), metonymy, metaphor and conceptual integration.
Chapter 3, The Conceptual System brings forth the issue of embodiment in the construction of the conceptual system, for both perceptual / modal / experientialist (embodied) and the “amodal” / “non-perceptual” dimensions. Further on, Kövecses analyses three means of creating abstract concepts: abstraction, metaphor and subjectivity and shows that all three generate concepts which are based on perceptual experience, in other words, they are embodied. Moreover, the author posits that our conceptual system relies on the environments of communication, out of which it extracts most of its conceptual resources.
The fourth chapter, Contextual factors concentrates on the creation of metaphorical concepts, which do not appear as a result of pre-stored mappings in the conventional conceptual system, but rather from different contextual factors in real situations of discourse, both immediate (local) and non-immediate (global) context in which metaphorical conceptualisation is engendered. Such contextual influence on conceptualisation occurs concurrently and competitively with that of entrenched embodiment.
Chapter 5, Metaphor and Culture deals with the conceptualisation of culture from a linguistic perspective, which lends an “enhanced” angle on culture, as well as on context. The previous two-dimensional conception of context can be applied to culture, i.e. culture seen as our meaning making system, and a more specific cultural dimension lent to metaphorical conceptualisation in a given communicative situation. Kövecses postulates that the understanding of culture from a cognitive linguistics perspective help us understand the similarities and differences with the way in which other scientific branches (e.g. constructivism) perceive culture.
The sixth chapter, Context and Metaphorical Creativity is devoted to less tackled issues in the cognitive metaphor theory, i.e. metaphorical creativity. Kövecses analyses the different types of context that affect metaphorical conceptualisation: a) global contexts, e.g. the physical environment, the social setting, the cultural setting, the differential memory, and the differential concerns and interests, and b) local contexts, e.g. the immediate physical setting, the knowledge about the main entities in the discourse, the immediate cultural context, the immediate social setting, and the immediate linguistic context.
Chapter 7, Context and Poetic Metaphor focuses on metaphorical creativity in poetry and on contextual factors that influence the creation of poetic metaphors, i.e. the physical environment, knowledge about the author, the audience, and the topic, the cultural and social setting, and the linguistic context. Out of these, Kövecses concentrates on two in particular, the “previous discourse” (other preceding literary works) and intertextuality, which often generate novel metaphors in subsequent works.
The eighth chapter, The Conceptual Context of Linguistic Humor contends that linguistic humour commonly stands on how particular meanings operate in a larger conceptual context. Kövecses argues that cognitive operations, such as metaphor, metonymy and blending cannot alone account for humour, therefore it is suggested that it is the concept incongruity that we should look at in this case. According to the author, there exist “clearly identifiable types or kinds of incongruity that appear to be responsible for humorous effects, including ‘real vs. imagined,’ ‘possible vs. impossible,’ ‘socially neutral/expected/acceptable vs. socially unacceptable/stigmatized/taboo,’ ‘elevated vs. mundane’, etc.” (Kövecses 2015: 154)
Chapter 9, Happiness in Context treats the subject of the conceptual system seen as the mental representation of all our experiences. By way of illustration, the concept of happiness is explored in three different historical and cultural contexts: contemporary everyday English, the Declaration of Independence and the New Testament. Various cultural contexts engender different conceptualisations leading to various cognitive models (or frames) of happiness.
The last chapter, Metaphor and Context provides an overview of meaning-making in context, based on the investigations presented in the previous chapters. He starts by a general description of communication and of metaphorical communication as part of the former. Aspects such as the notions of relevant context, referential scene, joint attention, joint action, and common ground are considered significant for a theory of metaphor creation in context.
In the end, the author reiterates the challenging and though-provoking question of the title “Where do metaphors come from?”. Given the fact that in actual communicative situations speakers/conceptualizers form their metaphors out of four large types of experience: the situational, discourse, conceptual-cognitive, and bodily contexts, it follows that the body represents just one of the many contexts from which metaphors can emerge albeit the most important one. Cognition is therefore, also grounded in the “situations in which people act and lead their lives, the discourses in which they are engaged at any time in communicating and interacting with each other, and the conceptual knowledge they have accumulated about the world in the course of their experience of it” (Kövecses 2015:200).
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How to cite this review: Popescu, T. (2016). Zoltan Kövecses, Where metaphors come from: Reconsidering context in metaphor. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. Pp. xiii-197. ISBN 978-01-9022-486-8. Journal of Linguistic and Intercultural Education – JoLIE, 9(3), 187-190. DOI:
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