What is your metaphor for life

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Status: March 20, 2018

For a long time only poets and orators were concerned with the metaphor. It wasn't until the end of the 20th century that the aesthetic reserve had come to pass, and curiosity outside the field stormed the linguistically contemplative ivory tower. Linguists, psychologists, sociologists, and neurobiologists caught fire and debated increasingly heatedly about the phenomenon of language images. The young savages of cognitive metaphor research, however, were not interested in aesthetic, poetological and rhetorical finesse. They were interested in more prosaic things: how language, thinking, action, psyche and body are linked, or what role language images play in everyday communication and cognitive processes.

Metaphors are rooted in the body

At the beginning of the new desire for questions was a book that the American linguist George Lakoff and the philosopher Mark Johnson published together in 1980. It had the eloquent title "Metaphors We Live By" and set up a series of steep theses. For Lakoff and Johnson, metaphors are much more than decorative figures of style. They penetrate and carry existence, language, action and thought. All conceptions of the world, all worldviews, all concepts that we follow are at their core metaphorical in nature, are generated by metaphors and are communicated by metaphors. The ubiquity and effectiveness of the metaphor is neither arbitrary nor arbitrarily generated: It is rooted in our earliest, pre-linguistic perceptions, in physical experiences that shape and organize our linguistic world experience and description.

Language is lived memory

There are plenty of indications for a close connection between metaphor formation and body perception. An immediately comprehensible example is provided by metaphors that express interpersonal encounters such as love, affection, friendship. It is no coincidence that we describe these comforts with additions from the field of warmth, that we warm ourselves to someone or something, that we speak of warm-heartedness, hot love, warmest gratitude, warmest friendship, warm looks and warm eyes. The coupling of positive emotions with warmth, which can be found in all cultures and languages, is anchored in the primary experience of maternal affection.

The mother of all metaphors

We later metaphorically transfer the feeling of warmth and security we found in the mother to similar situations. In the same way, only with the opposite sign, we prove unpleasant encounters and experiences with cold metaphors. We speak of a cold rebuff, give someone the cold shoulder, feel our interest or our hearts cool down, shiver under icy gazes. One does not have to search long for the neuronally stored archetype, according to which these linguistic images of frustration and frost are modeled: The withdrawal of maternal warmth and closeness is a painful experience for every child that is linguistically reflected for a lifetime. And that we speak of mother tongue, langue maternelle, mother tongue and lingua madre, is, in the light of these findings, certainly no coincidence.

Once you have accepted that the body expresses itself verbally in metaphors, the world of language images becomes a continued aha experience: someone appears depressed, a mood rises, climaxes or sinks to zero, something brings me up or draws me precisely down because behind this is the experience that positive feelings are associated with an upright, raised posture and negative feelings with a bent, sunken posture. So everything speaks for the fact that Lakoff and Johnson hit the nail on the head with their central statement. This main finding is plain and simple: We don't just speak in metaphors, we live and think in metaphors.