Metaphors and Conceptual Systems Essay

Metaphors and Conceptual Systems Essay

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Studying language reveals one aspect of culture which is organized systematically. The relationship between categories, cognition, language, culture, and truth can be analytically examined in Metaphors We Live By. George Lakoff and Mark Johnson argue that dictionary definitions do not adequately describe concepts, especially ambiguous concepts. Rather, we use concepts from a source domain (which are more basic and empirically real) to make sense of concepts within the target domain (which are less tangible and clearly defined ex: emotions, time, and morality). An experiential basis for both domains links the two together. Experiential bases include our bodies, our interaction with the physical environment, and interactions with other people and institutions.
Employing this method requires the use of metaphors. Lakoff and Johnson make the powerful claim that, “our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature… the essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one thing in terms of another” (p. 3-5). Language gives us evidence of the conceptual system within a culture. Our language limits our understanding of everyday experiences for we rely on metaphors to create understanding of our messages; there are very few things we are able to explain on a daily basis without speaking about something in terms of another.
Lakoff and Johnson classify metaphors into three groups: structural, orientational and ontological. When one concept is metaphorically structured in terms of another it is classified as a structural metaphor. Structural metaphors require certain aspects of a concept to be highlighted and others to be shaded. Orientational metaphors organize an entir...

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...e category is understood for our purposes in a given context”(p. 163-63). Again, for Lakoff and Johnson there is no such thing as truth independent of human understanding.
With this considered, the metaphors discussed thus far are “true” in so far as language enables us to give meaning and significance to different concepts through coherence. In order for a conceptual metaphor to be true it must be shared beyond the individual level, but is rarely, if ever, shared at a universal level. There is no truth that always exists for everyone. Truth is culturally constructed and is always relative to the conceptual system within the culture.

Works Cited

Davis, Watson. "Battling a Plague." The Science News-Letter 32 (1937): 234-237.
Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1980.

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