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Metaphors In Cognitive Linguistics

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 5004 words Published: 12th May 2017

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The nature of metaphor. Are people aware of the existence of metaphors in their everyday lives? Very often we treat them only as stylistic devices, but in fact metaphorical expressions verbally represent the way of human thinking and reasoning. People tend to conceptualise emotions, love being one of them, metaphorically because both emotions and metaphors connected with them are inevitable parts of everyday live.

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” Without our ability to categorize, we would not function at all, either in the physical world or in our social and intellectual lives” (1990: 6) explains Lakoff in Women, Fire and Dangerous Things. According to Cognitive Linguistics, language is a very powerful tool as it reflects the way we categorize and conceptualise the world we live in. It is almost impossible to understand a thing without grouping it with other category members that share the same properties. In doing so, we acquire different kinds of concepts and, as a result, build our general knowledge.

Cognitive Linguistics allows us to understand that metaphorical thinking is crucial to human cognition. Thus, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson in their Metaphors we live by propose a cognitive theory of metaphor, as a process thanks to which one concept is understood using another concept (Lakoff 1980: 5). The best example of this is talking about LOVE in terms of JOURNEYS. As mentioned previously, our ability to categorize allowed us to gather knowledge about journeys that we can depend on in understanding love.

Zoltàn Kövecses in Metaphor, A Practical Introduction emphasizes that we need to differentiate conceptual metaphor from metaphorical linguistic expressions. He proves that the latter disclose the existence of the former. Let us use a few examples to reveal the relationship between conceptual metaphor ( small capitals) and metaphorical expressions ( italics).


We’re at the crossroads.

It’s been bumpy road.

Our marriage is on the rocks.

We’re stuck.

We can’t turn back now.

( Kövecses 2002:6 )

We can conclude that such metaphorical expressions ”give us insight into the metaphorical nature of the concepts that structure our everyday activities” (Kövecses 2002: 7).

How do we conceptualise emotions? Lakoff in Women, Fire and Dangerous Things views emotions as ‘ having no conceptual content’. However, I believe there must be some, as we are able to describe the intensity of a particular emotion. Although feelings and emotions are extremely difficult to understand, these abstract concepts can be conceptualised with the help of more concrete ones (Lakoff 1980:59), that is why LOVE is conceptualised in terms of FIRE or WAR (e.g. My love is on fire, I do not want to get burned again, This kindled love in his heart). Concrete concepts facilitate the understanding of these complex emotions.

There are many examples of metaphors of love ( which I will try to present in the following chapters). They are common in everyday life as they present different aspects of this powerful emotion. Without the notion of metaphor, we would not be able to comprehend such an abstract feeling as love. The intensity plays an essential role in the way we think of love, for instance. The conceptual metaphor – LOVE IS FIRE emphasizes the existence of love (on fire), it’s intensity (flames), duration and shows how love affects people (He was consumed by love) . Due to the existence of metaphor, the most powerful emotions, love being one of them, can be interpreted.

1.2 Source and Target Domains

So far, we have managed to explain that metaphor consists of two concepts and that we comprehend one concept in terms of another. These concepts are called domains. According to Kövecses, conceptual metaphors tend to use ”abstract concept as a target and more concrete as their source” ( 2002:6).


‘love’ forms the target domain ‘journey’ forms the source domain

( a conceptual domain we try ( a conceptual domain we take a

to comprehend) conceptual content from)

As far as metaphors of love are concerned, many people wonder why some endearments are more popular than others. Why the expression ‘my sweet-heart’ is more popular then ‘my sweet-leg’ when talking to the beloved person? Why do we use one and not the other? When we look at the endearments containing fairy-like elements the most common are: prince-charming, my princess, my knight. Why is it like that? The answer is obvious, we choose these fairytale characters because we find some of their charactristics attractive and we want to ascribe them to the person we love. Lakoff and Johnson claim that this kind of tendency is more regular rather than occasional (1980: 67). The previously mentioned characters, are the SOURCE domains whereas the person to be described the TARGET domain. Similarly, from fire (source in LOVE IS FIRE metaphor) love takes its intensity and from an insane person (source in LOVE IS MADNESS metaphor) his/her quite irresponsible and strange behaviour.

The examples above show that the source domain provides us with terms necessary to describe the target domain. As Lakoff proposes, in order to describe and understand the target domain, one must have the knowledge of the source domain. Let us take LOVE IS A JOURNEY metaphor. We understand love because we have knowledge about journeys. Each time we think about journeys, we consider travelers, route and destination. In order to understand love in terms of a journey, one must have in mind the idea of lovers as travelers, the course of their romantic relationship as an act of traveling with happy moments as well as obstacles (It’s been bumpy road). Our knowledge about different kinds of journeys equips us with a powerful tool that can be used to make the description of love richer and more adequate.

1.3 Mapping

So far, we have established that a conceptual metaphor consists of two domains: source and target. We have also found out that we need to take into account both domains to fully understand a conceptual metaphor. However, what does it mean to ‘understand’ a metaphor? Kövecses explains that the knowledge of correspondences between these two domains is necessary to comprehend a conceptual metaphor. We refer to these conceptual analogies as MAPPINGS ( Kövecses 2002: 6). Let us take one example concerning metaphor of love to see how the mapping can function.

We cannot turn back now.

When we use the expression cannot turn back, we reveal that we are not going to change the direction and destination of our journey. ‘We’ refers to people involved in a journey. That is how we created three necessary elements of a journey: a destination, travelers and a journey as such. However, when we apply an appropriate context to the sentence, we will get a new meaning of it. We will understand the whole sentence to be about love. Thus, the travelers are lovers who discuss things that are happening in their relationship while cannot turn back can be interpreted as a situation when lovers cannot change the course of events that happened to them.



‘We’- travelers ‘We’-lovers

Journey Romantic relationship

Destination of a journey Lovers’ aims or goals

Difficulties that travelers encounter Obstacles in the relationship

The example above shows that the understanding of a conceptual metaphor goes from ”more concrete (the journey) to the more abstract concept” (events in the relationship) (Kövecses 2002: 6). Such a rule was called The Principle of Unidirectionality .

1.4 Metaphorical Systematicity: Highlightning and Hiding

We have already learnt that there is a systematicity that allows us to understand one concept in terms of another (e.g. interpreting development of love in terms of a journey or the intensity of love in terms of fire) (Lakoff, Johnson 1980:10). However, what does systematicity mean? When we talk about love in terms of a journey, we use vocabulary that is normally applied when discussing travelling e.g. We are at the crossroads. We can see that there is a kind of a pattern we tend to use. Thus, systematicity is a pattern that affects the way we talk about love, allowing us to use words or phrases that previously had been used to refer to different concepts (Lakoff 1980: 7).

Kövecses points out that when a metaphor concentrates on one or more features of a concept, it highlights those features. However, when one aspect of a given concept is highlighted, the other ones will be hidden (2002: 80). Checking which features are highlighted or hidden in the following metaphors of love will give more light to this interesting issue.


She was filled with love.

He poured out his affections on her.

She couldn’t hold in her love for him any longer.


She swept me off my feet.

Waves of passion came over him.

She was carried away by love.

(Lakoff 1980: 49)

As we can see conceptual metaphors create and describe the target domain by directing attention at or hiding different angles of it. Thus, in LOVE IS SUBSTANCE metaphor, the aspect of content is highlighted, whereas the possible chance of development of a romantic feeling is concealed. The examples of LOVE IS A NATURAL FORCE metaphor reveal that love cannot be controlled as well as show the intensity of the emotion. However, the aspect of an emotional enrichment, which is also present when people experience such an overwhelming feeling, is hidden.

1.5 Structural metaphors

So far we have found out that metaphors are not discussed only as poetic devices but as ways of our thinking and understanding abstract concepts. We can distinguish three kinds of metaphors: structural, ontological and orientational.

In ontological metaphors experiences are treated as concrete objects e.g. containers (I put a lot of energy into preparing decorations) . When we deal with them in such a way we can “refer to them, categorize them, group them, and quantify them – and, by these means, reason about them” (Lakoff 1980:25).

The group of orientational metaphors is said to be connected with our orientation in space. Concepts are connected with physical orientation, for instance happiness is up (I’m feeling up) and sadness is down (I’m feeling down) (Lakoff1980:16).

Structural metaphor is the most productive type of all conceptual metaphors. Thanks to these metaphors, complex and abstract experiences can be understood in terms of simpler and more concrete ones e.g. LOVE IS A JOURNEY. In Metaphors we live by Lakoff and Johnson state that ‘the conceptual system is metaphorical in nature’ (1980:4). What does it mean, how can it structure the world we live in and how does it influence our activities? Let us take LOVE IS FIRE metaphor as an example.

My heart is on fire.

He was consumed by love.

I do not want to get burned again.

That kindled love in his heart.

Thanks to the metaphorical expression That kindled love in his heart, we can conceptualise love as having a beginning and an end just as fire has. When the fire is kindled, the love begins; when it goes out, the love ends.

These examples also prove that we not only talk about love in terms of fire. The lover can be consumed by love when he/she is so in love that it is all that he/she thinks about. If the lover does not want to get burned again it may mean he/she does not want to experience the same serious dissapointment after an unsuccessful relationship. Due to the fact that ‘ the essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another’ (Lakoff 1980:5), we can conclude that love is ”structured and understood” (Lakoff 1980:5) in terms of fire.

1.6 Container Metaphors and Personification

Another kind of a conceptual metaphor has been called by Lakoff and Johnson the container metaphor. In container metaphors humans are viewed as containers with boundaries and an orientation of inside and outside f.e. She was filled with love (Lakoff 1980:29). As far as non-physical objects are concerned, they can also be comprehended by mentally converting them into physical ones. Let us imagine our world as a container with borders separating the inside from the outside. It is clear when we take into consideration objects that have natural or artificial boundaries, for instance rooms. However, when we talk about our emotional states or conditions e.g. He is in love, the matter is not so obvious. Lakoff and Johnson suggest that we tend to conceptualise our emotions as containers, whereas the way we feel when we experience particular emotions is conceptualised as being inside the container (1980:30). Emotions can be also comprehended in terms of substances e.g. His heart was filled with love (Bierwiaczonek 2002:140). As Bierwiaczonek points out heart and eyes are most frequently used as containers for emotions being understood with the help of substances (2002:140).

A crucial as well as interesting group of ontological metaphors are those describing something as a person: personifications (Lakoff 1980: 33). This means that we ascribe human features to non-living objects. Looking at metaphors of love, we are overwhelmed with a feeling that love has been personified in many metaphorical expressions. The following are only the most common examples.

Love can give you hope.

Love can be blind.

Love can be tender.

What is even more appealing, love can go through the same stages as humans do in the course of life, love comes to life, it lasts and dies.


Lakoff, George. 1990. Women, Fire and Dangerous Things. What Categories Reveal

About the Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson. 1980. Metaphors we live by. Chicago: University of

Chicago Press.

Kövecses, Zoltán, 2002. Metaphor, A Practical Introduction. Oxford University Press,


George Lakoff, 1993. ” Contemporary Theory of Metaphor”. In Andrew Ortony, (ed.)

Metaphor and Thought, 202-251. New York: Cambridge University Press.

McGlone, M.S. 1996. ” Conceptual Metaphors and Figurative Language Interpretation:

Food for Thought?” Journal of Memory and Language, 35, 544-565.



The models of love

In the previous chapter we have managed to understand that thanks to metaphor, which is a crucial part of our everyday life, we are able to conceptualise the world we live in. We have admitted that metaphor cannot be treated only as a stylistic device because as Reddy suggests ”the locus of metaphor is thought, not language” (in Lakoff 1980: 204). Such an idea proves that our reasoning as well as our behaviour reflect the way we metaphorically comprehend everything that happens in our lives.

Powerful emotions, love being one of them, are inevitable parts of the human existence thus metaphors such as LOVE IS FIRE or LOVE IS A CONTAINER help us to understand this overwhelming feeling. Very often love is seen as a kind of an award we get, something that enables us to do things we are normally afraid to do as it equips us with extra power. According to Kövecses (in Bierwiaczonek 2002:25) we distinguish two models of love: ideal and typical. Having in mind that only ideal love provides us with the previously mentioned power, it is not difficult to guess what kind of love we look for. In the ideal model of love, lovers see themselves as a unity (e.g. We are one) as they complement each other. They are imbued with the feelings that their love is a true one, that they were created to live together and that their love is immortal. The lovers believe that there is an emotional bond between them, which enables them to live in a perfect harmony. Needless to say, there are certain psychological effects that occur when we are in love: increased body heat, blushing, increased heart rate (2002: 25).

There are many categories of love, however five of them are the most common.

Bierwiaczonek (2002:28) presents the following kinds of love:

FAMILY LOVE: PARENTAL and CHILD’S LOVE OF PARENTS, the family love is revealed through the care and attention that parents give their children and vice versa (e.g. Mother muzzled my cheek); FRIENDSHIP, great liking for someone, friendship constitutes an emotional bond between people, it can even complement sexual love, give a new meaning to it and enrich partners’ realationship; SEXUAL LOVE, sexual passion; AGAPE, God’s admiration, Christian love and LOVE OF THINGS, fondness for material possessions (e.g. His love was money.)

Most of the metaphors of love consider sexual love, thus for the purpose of the work we will discuss only these types of metaphors.

Metaphors of love

2.2.1 Metaphors of lovers

Metaphors of lovers are very intriguing kinds of metaphors since they highlight the aspect of lovers who are involved in a romantic relationship (Bierwiaczonek 2002:112). In the metaphor LOVE IS A UNITY, the metaphorical expression We are one indicates that lovers are parts of a whole. Similarly, the metaphor LOVE IS A JOURNEY shows lovers as travelers, whereas the metaphor LOVE IS WAR presents them as participants in a war or even opponents.


She is my better half They are unseparable There is a strong bond between them

(Bierwiaczonek 2002:113)

The examples above prove that we can discuss lovers or think about them as parts of a larger whole. Although metaphors reflecting our emotional states are used spontaneously, not all combinations are possible. The metaphorical expression She is my better half perfectly suits when we consider ”she” as a lover. When we think of ”she” as a family member e.g. My mum is my better half, the whole expression sounds ridiculous (Bierwiaczonek 2002:113).

There are also metaphors emphasizing the behaviour of lovers f.g. LOVERS ARE BIRDS (f.e. Look at those two lovebirds on the bench). In LOVE IS MADNESS

metaphor, lovers are presented as insane people mainly due to the intensity of love which makes them behave irresponsibly or, in extreme cases, lovers may lose control over themselves (e.g. He has gone mad about her).

2.2.2 Love is a journey metaphor

So far, the analysis of conceptual metaphor enabled us to explain that such an abstract feeling as love can only be comprehended with the help of metaphor. Which metaphors of love can facilitate the understanding of contemporary world? How do people conceptualise these metaphors?


It’s been a long, bumpy road.

Look how far we have come.

We are at a crossroads.

I do not think this relationship is going anywhere.

We are stuck.

Our marriage is on the rocks.

We have gotten off the track.

We’ll just have to go our separate ways.

(Lakoff 1980:45)

As mentioned in the first chapter, people use concrete concepts to understand more abstract ones (Kövecses 2002:6). Such a tendency justifies the fact of using the concept of a journey when trying to comprehend love. Worth mentioning is also the variety of metaphorical expressions concerning different types of journeys. When talking about love, people can refer to train travel (e.g. We have gotten off the track), car travel (e.g. We are at the crossroads) and sea travel (e.g. Our marriage is on the rocks) (Lakoff 1980:45). Such a diversity makes the verbal reflection of our emotions richer and, as a result, the pictures created in mind are more vivid.



Love is war metaphor


He is known for his many rapid conquests

He is slowly gaining ground with her

He fought for him but his mistress won out

He overpowered her

She is besieged by suitors

He has to fend them off

He made an ally of her father

( Lakoff 1980:49)

LOVE IS WAR metaphor is an example of a strutural metaphor, the metaphor which facilitates understanding an abstract concept of love using the concept of war. As far as war is concerned, we consider the following issues: two fighting sides, the result of the fight and the fight itself. In LOVE IS WAR metaphor, such components respectively refer to the lovers, the result of the verbal battle and the disagreement between lovers.

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SOURCE- WAR The above examples clearly emphasize the existence of the fight between the lovers f.e. He overpowered her. However, the fact of cooperation, which is also present during the war, is hidden. The lovers are shown as opponents trying to fight for their rights. According to Lakoff (1980: 61-67), our language is an expression of our thoughts and feelings. Treating them as parts of our personality, we can assume that LOVE IS WAR metaphor shows one aspect of our personality- willingness to fight for what we consider crucial to our well-being.


Love is magic metaphor


She cast her spell over me

She had me hypnotized

I was entranced by him

She is bewitching

I was spellbound

(Lakoff 1980:49)

From the dawn of history people have been intrigued by magic. On one hand they saw impossible things taking place in front of their eyes, on the other hand their common sense forbade them to believe in such ”miracles”. Although, it is not important whether humans belive in magic or not, what is important is the fact that people are not indifferent to it. Magic affects people and fascinates them profoundly. Women especially are said to have the power to seduce men, hypnotize them or even, cast spells on them. As love is treated almost as a magical and inexplicable phenomenon, it is not difficult to understand why LOVE is comprehended in terms of MAGIC. LOVE IS MAGIC metaphor definitely emphasises the existence of an almost magical conncection that bonds lovers, while hiding the aspect of the mortality of partners and their inability to use magic.



Love is madness metaphor


I’m crazy about her

She drives me out of my mind

He has gone mad over her

I’m just wild about Harry

He constantly raves about her

(Lakoff 1980: 49)

In LOVE IS MADNESS metaphor love is presented as a state of insanity. When one is in love, she/he experiences certain kinds of emotions which are, in fact, similar to mental states of madness. Only intensity differentiates these emotions from each other. Each time we go through them, we have symptoms indicating a psychological illness.

Very often the object of love is treated as a cause of a particular feeling or illness (e.g. She drives me out of my mind). One in love is shown as an insane person (e.g I’m crazy about her) and a feeling of love as an illness itself.

LOVE IS MADNESS metaphor directs our attention at the profound effect that love has on people, thus humans tend to compare it to the state of madness. However, the metaphor refuses to highlight the ability to create plans for the partners’ future and the aspect of a fruitful cooperation which are also present in a romantic relationship



Love is a patient metaphor


This is a sick relationship

They are a strong, healthy marriage

Their marriage is dead, it cannot be revived

We are getting back on our feet

Their marriage is on its last legs

(Lakoff 1980: 49)

We have already mentioned that lovers are treated as a unity (e.g. We are one). The existence of a unity between spouses indicates the belief that they are actually one person. Due to the fact that a person in love can suffer from symptoms of an illness, we can assume that lovers are patients. The patients’ health state represents the state of the relationship or marriage. Although the physical and mental condition of the relationship is revealed, the possible ways of ”healing” the marriage are concealed. All of us have experienced an illness at least once in our life-time. However each illness, even the smallest one, is treated as something new. As far as love is concerned, each new relationship is worth taking care of because as Hubert H. Humphrey said ” The greatest healing therapy is friendship and love”. Love can make us feel sick, but it is also able to heal our hearts and souls.



Love is fire metaphor


I don’t want to get burned again.

My heart’s on fire.

That kindled love in his heart.

She is his latest flame.

He was consumed by love.

(Lakoff 1980: 49)

Humans describe love as a one of the most vivid and powerful feelings we experience, that is why we use so many metaphors in order to describe the aspects of this overwhelming emotion. However, LOVE IS FIRE metaphor is the most significiant as far as the intensity of love is concerned. As we have observed the intensity of the emotion is highlighted, whereas the possibility of a regeneration after an unfortunate relationship is hidden (people, things cannot revive after being utterly damaged by flames). Thanks to this conceptual metaphor, people can connect different phases of fire burning with different stages of being in love. Such a conceptualisation explains that love, as well as fire, has its beginning, duration and the end. The damage caused by the intensity of fire can refer to the lover’s psychological damage because of the disappointment in love.



Love is a physical force metaphor


He was magnetically drawn to her

His whole life revolves around her

The atmosphere around them is always charged

They gravitated to each other immediately

I could feel the electricity between us

(Lakoff 1980: 49)

Intensity, being one of the most siginficant features of love, enables us to use forces such as magnetism, gravity and electicity while talking about this powerful emotion. LOVE IS A PHYSICAL FORCE metaphor definitely highlights an imperious aspect of love over other emotions that people can feel. In this metaphor, humans conceptualize love as a force majeure, something that they cannot control or have an influence on. If we assume that such a feeling as love cannot be controlled, we have to admit that also lovers cannot be restricted. The existence of magnetism between them signifies the necessity of living together or spending as much time as possible with each other whereas electricity between lovers presents the power of love that bonds them.





2.2.9 Love is a rapture metaphor


I’m giddy with love

I’ve been high on love for weeks

She is drunk with love

He is intoxicated with love

(Lakoff 1980:49)

The examples above present love as a state of an ecstasy caused by drugs or alcohol. The existence of such a metaphor proves that the behaviour of people who are in love resembles the conduct of those being on a drug- induced high. Although lovers do not usually take any narcotic stimulants, they indeed show symptoms of an addiction. A constant thinking about the object of love, a difficult to understand happiness when spending time with each other or a determination to win the beloved’s heart are symptoms which may be misunderstood and the person showing them may be accused of using illegal stimulants. However, in everyday situations humans realize that love has such an impact on those experiencing it that they actually can act irresponsiby.




There are many different kinds of metaphors of love presenting various aspects of this overwhelming feeling. I have chosen only a few of them, the most fascinating and ambiguous ones. The analysis of the metaphors of love proved that this feeling is difficult to comprehend because of its complexity. By trials and errors I have realized that it is impossible to present all the possible sides of this powerful emotion. Love affects people profoundly and therefore it is very important for them. That is why they try to comprehend this abstract feeling using more concrete concepts such as a journey, war or fire. Thanks to metaphors we create in our minds the breathtaking pictures of an incredible world we live in.


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