Tag Archives: Metaphor

Real Life Applications of Cognitive Linguistics

Shopping's Goat...

Image by ImAges ImprObables via Flickr

I have said it before and I will say it again: ANYTHING that requires thought benefits from a cognitive linguistic perspective.

We use language to help in making sense of the world, this goes for broad and general topics as well as specific expert domains; language is the medium of meaning, wherever that meaning occurs.

The idea I use in my professional life as an organizational culture planner is to use cognitive science to make sense out of the systems of thought expressed in the routine tasks of the organization and to see how they are described through culture in the form of business practices and personnel behaviors.  If I can see how thought and culture relate via language structures (i.e., conceptual metaphors, conceptual blends, force-dynamics, attention, figure-ground relations, et cetera), then I can help grow organizational culture from an informed perspective.


If you take the communication produced in an average business meeting, break it up into sections that identify the underlying conceptual metaphors, see who communicates what message, and trace the outcomes of the meeting, you can start to get a feel for what drives the organization.


Because design is an artifact of human creativity, it reflects the processes of perception.  Pick up any art criticism, architecture and landscape writing, or pulp design magazine, and you will see a range of conceptual structures at play in the terms of the movement of a visual scene, the oscillation of figure and ground (which in many cases roughly correlate to grammatical subject and object), the directing of attention, and the general semiotic structure of the actual design or the commentary; each aspect of the design reflects conception and perception.


Since technology is used in every aspect of life, we can start to see how it becomes a part of culture and cognition; in fact, technology in many respects helps us to distribute our cognitive load across a piece of technology. Pieces of technology are like material anchors that helps us escape from merely thinking with our minds and instead enable us to think with our environment.  This is a matter of conceptual blending, and it plays out in the decisions we make using thought and language, since technology is a tool that helps us learn, decide, and act on collected knowledge.  This is as relevant for super-computers as it is for using a wooden ruler; technology of all forms enables us to actually have something to say about the sensed environment.


When people want to relate to each other, they use language and other models of symbolization to communicate.  One of the most frustrating and most interesting aspects of communication situations is knowing whether communication is actually happening, or if it is in fact failing.  A lot of this depends on negotiating the common ground to see what each party shares.  Since the language we use for communicating relies so heavily on metaphors, it is often interesting to look at which metaphors people use to communicate, and whether or not those metaphors are understood by the other conversation partners. This holds true for relationship counseling, for customer service relations, and for friendships.  Any time people get together, they use meaningful structures to communicate, and cognitive science offers a suite of tools to analyze that communication.

The idea I use in my work is to exploit the nuances in language and behavior to gain insight into what problems the organization is facing.  I use a three-pronged approach to collect, analyze, and present that data.  I then help the organization to see how to use the results in a meaningful way to produce actionable solutions.  What this does for me is invaluable; I get to have a good time working on different problems, and I get to see how different people work together to help me find solutions that work for them.

I welcome opportunities to participate in translating ideas into cultural practices and love to engage in productive collaboration with people who are open and curious.

Let me know if you want to talk. DM me: @SportLinguist, or leave a comment on the contact page.

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Truffle to Truffle: Metaphors of Dirty Decadence

Truffle Market in Carpentras.

Image via Wikipedia

I can’t tell if I like truffles the mushroom better than I like truffles the chocolate, but one thing is for sure, truffles of any kind offer a guilty pleasure.  From a cognitive science perspective both types of truffles are related to each other, perhaps not on the Linnaean taxonomy, but certainly from a metaphorical position.  Look at these facts:

Take the features of the Mushroom:

  1. Relative Rarity
  2. Decadent and Dark Earthiness
  3. Lumpy & Dirty
  4. Expensive

…and metaphorically translate them into Chocolate:

  1. Good ones (i.e., NOT Lindor or Trader Joes) are Rare
  2. Dark Chocolate Decadence
  3. Lumpy & Dusted with a fine cocoa powder
  4. Expensive

The idea is to get a sweet version of the savory kind, find a translatable equivalent from the language of savory to the language of sweet.

Both the mushroom and the chocolate share these two characteristics:

  • They are both Expensive, where: a) Cost correlates with Quality and b) Cost correlates with Rarity, and,
  • They are both Dirty
I have been making truffles by hand for a little over a decade and at first I followed a recipe but over time it has kind of evolved to the point that I feel that I can call it my own.  Here is my process:
Typically I take about a pound of a rich dark chocolate (try a slave-free chocolate from this list), shave it, melt it in a double boiler, concurrently bring about a cup of heavy whipping cream just to a boil (without scalding), remove it from the flame and fold the chocolate into the cream.  At this point I will add something special (i.e. dark rum, cayenne, or marmalade) and set it aside to cool.  This is the ganache for the truffle filling.  Once it is cool I scoop it into small marble-sized balls using a melon spoon, place them in my freezer and leave the door open (I use the freezer as part of my extended working space and it is easier than opening and closing the door).  Have on hand a deep bowl with an non-dutched cocoa powder (something French is nice).  I bring about 10 ounces of a different grade of chocolate to melting point (temper it if you know how) and one at a time roll the frozen ganache balls in the melted chocolate, gingerly dropping them into the bowl of cocoa powder and quickly swirling the truffle around in the powder.  If you do this right the powder covers the entire truffle and evens out the coating of tempered chocolate.  Remove it from the powder with a plastic spoon and return it to the chilled freezer to let it set up.  Keeping them any longer than a week diminishes their quality.

Now that I shared my recipe I want to address the metaphor.

The idea about the metaphorical transfer that takes place is that concepts from one domain are mapped onto referents in another domain; in this case: mushroom maps to chocolate.  Interestingly, like many metaphors, this directionality is a one way mapping, in other words, it might be hard to map concepts from the chocolate truffle back onto the mushroom truffle.  But this is not impossible, for instance, say that someone begins to wrap their truffle mushrooms in a foil bon-bon wrapper to add a touch of novelty – then this behavior would be a feedback mapping of the metaphor.  That said, no truffle vendor in their right mind would cheapen the mushroom with that kind of kitsch, and no sensible market customer would buy a wrapped truffle they could not see.  So practically, it is probably safe to say that the metaphor only goes one direction.

Looking at the dusting of the truffle with cocoa we can see how the dirt environment of the mushroom acts as a containing boundary, in fact, the irregular shape of the mushroom comes from the fact that it grows underground and the pressure of the soil molds the mushroom, the soil embodies a force schema of restraint and acts as a container.  Likewise, the swirling of the truffle in the cocoa powder shapes the truffle and envelopes the chocolate truffle in a skin of powder (another container).

To wrap things up, think about this super simplified rendering of the metaphor:

Can you think of any other types of food that could be mapped using this simple template?  If so, post a comment with an example, we should try and get a little typology of food process metaphors going.

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CONTAINER Is an Ontological Metaphor

Ontological Metaphors are metaphors that give shape to abstract concepts and even contribute to the structure of Primary Metaphors.  CONTAINER is one of those metaphors. Continue reading

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Grammaticalization via Metaphoric Extension in Tok Pisin

Stomach diagram in Inkscape.

Image via Wikipedia

Grammaticalization is a process whereby items in a language change to move (usually) from an open class to a closed class. There are three main types of grammaticalization: 1) metaphorical extension, 2) invited inferencing, and 3) subjectification.

I think that Melanesian Pidgin (Tok Pisin) uses  a metaphoric extension system to grammaticalize certain lexical items (I think these are instances of renewal where a content word takes on a grammatical use).  Several of these terms derive from body part metaphors that align with axiality or cardinality.


[Mind, soul, heart or internal state.  Literally, “stomach” or “belly”]

Bel bilong me kamap hat, or, belhat

[Anger, literally, “my stomach has become hot”, or “my stomach is hot”]


[Your home village, where you originate from – literally, your “ass place” locative for the place where your ass belongs]


[mustache, literally “mouth grass”]

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Metaphoric Extension of Hunger and Thirst Adjectives

Knowledge, mural by Robert Lewis Reid. Second ...

Image via Wikipedia

So, this morning as I was coming out of sleep and waking to face the day I remember trying to figure out why the stative adjective for not being satiated and having hunger was hungry and the stative adjective for not being quenched and having thirst was thirsty, but the stative adjective for not knowing everything and wanting knowledge was not *knowledgy. (*indicates ungrammaticality)

Instead of having a stative adjective to describe the want of knowledge, we say things like “have a thirst for knowledge” or “hunger after knowledge”, these are both metaphoric extensions of adjectives that describe situations which have a number of features in common.  For instance, hunger and thirst share these features: Continue reading

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How Spiders Conceptualize Reality

I found this spider in West Africa...outside my house.

I was working through a homework assignment about developing a language that captures the conceptualization patterns that a spider would have (given the boundaries of its embodied experience), this was a fun experiment, very much like Thomas Nagel’s What is it like to be a bat? (1974).  Anyway, here are some of the ways I cut up the problem:

If I am a spider, these are things that I cannot do:

  • pick stuff up and hold it in my hands
  • juggle
  • flick stuff
  • jump up and down vertically (rather than forward)
  • throw
  • kick
  • dance Continue reading
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Schematization of a research article on discourse metaphors

I am learning about various research methods and so I am reading articles to figure out their basic approach to research.  Here is an article that I have recently read and that I feel embodies a good research design.  Many people say that Cognitive Linguistics has a deficiency in text-based scholarship, this is a good example of a project that embraces text (original texts and transcripts of speeches – so, transcript as artifact/object of study)…enjoy!

Review of: Zinken, J. ‘Discourse metaphors: The link between figurative language and habitual analogies’ in Cognitive Linguistics 18(3) 2007, pp 445-466

This article introduces discourse metaphors as a link between language use and habitual analogical schemas to show that metaphors do not exist only at the superordinate level of categorization (as Conceptual Metaphor Theory suggests), but that they also exhibit systematically consistent (form-specific) figurative mappings at other levels.  In other words, lexical items within a superordinate level also have distinct patterns for figurative use; Zinken terms these discourse metaphors. Continue reading

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Cognitive Mindfulness #12

We face the future; the past is behind us.

In English we talk about the future being ahead of us, forward in time, in front of us, what lies ahead, what is to come, what we are facing, what our week looks like, what we see approaching.

We talk about the past as being behind us, something that we look back on, something we have passed through (and as such is behind us), what our year looked like.

This is the way that we use our body and our experience to shape our understanding of the sequence of events in our life, to make sense out of TIME in terms of SPACE. Continue reading

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Recursion, Björk, Mise en Abyme, Abstraction & the Ontological Metaphor ‘CONTAINER’

Abstraction takes an instance of something and edits out the redundancy and unnecessary elements to leave the basic pattern in a less detailed, but more succinct manner.

Abstraction in art seems to be something of a catch-all bin for art that is not realistic, at least in the common vernacular of the non-art historian/non-art critic.  This is not a healthy conceptualization of abstraction, and it may distort the understanding of abstraction.  I know for me, my view of abstraction was not clear for a very long time because I only associated the term with contemporary art.

What are some of the senses of abstraction?

  • Abstract vs. Concrete
  • Abstract vs. Body Content
  • Abstract vs. Realistic (similar to concrete)

I am interested in the abstraction that has the effect of zooming out, blurring the edges, pixilating the resolution, blocking smaller patterns into larger patterns; this kind of abstraction is of the summarization kind. Continue reading

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Cognitive Mindfulness #6

Thought is Metaphorical:

“A consequence of the claim that conceptual organization is in large part metaphorical is that thought itself is metaphorical.  In other words, metaphor is not simply a matter of language, but reflects ‘deep’ correspondences in the way our conceptual system is organized.  This being so, we expect to find evidence of metaphor in human systems other than language.” [303, Evans & Green, 2006]

Evans, V. & Green, M. (2006). Cognitive Linguistics an Introduction, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

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Lady Gaga Is Her Own Black Box

Sorry about the obtuse title, I don’t know how to name this odd post that integrates multiple concepts that tangentially relate.  Hopefully the ambiguity of description entices you to read.

It seems to me, that because Cognitive Semantics is constructional rather than compositional, it is suited for integration with Object Oriented Philosophy.

This statement might get some negative reactions, but I am learning, so, bring on the criticism.

Here is why I think Constructions are better suited for OOO than a strict Compositional approach: at the level of a relation between two hierarchies, concepts which construct do not need to regard the hierarchical levels as boundaries which must be maintained, in other words, a hierarchical element on level 5 in hierarchy A does not have to match across hierarchies to another hierarchical element on level 5 in hierarchy B. Continue reading

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Cognitive Science & Engineering by Deductive Reasoning

Flywheel from old factory

Image via Wikipedia

Here is a brief passage from my book The Art of War Against Boredom.  I wrote this passage around 8 years ago, and while it is influenced by my background in descriptive linguistics as opposed to strict cognitive linguistics, I still feel that it has something to say about the cognitive enterprise.  For example, in cognitive linguistics the actual language in use reflects the mental processing which produced that actual language.  In this passage below, the designed object reflects the mathematical processes which drove the production of the designed object.  I recognize that this can be interpreted through a generative lens too, but the passage isn’t meant to illustrate linguistic theory, it is a folk-methodology for problem solving.  Anyway, the designed object reflects the process of production. Continue reading

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