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“I think we agree, the past is over” Spatio-temporal Metaphors in American Political Discourse

The scope of Cognitive Linguistics (henceforth CL) encompasses as diverse issues as approaches to advertising (e.g. Ungerer 2000) and cognitive explorations of grammar. While the cognitive theory of metaphor has been widely acknowledged, some tenets of CL have been met with criticism, which may be pinpointed as follows.

First, CL as a discipline has not sufficiently embraced the notion of discourse. By and large, metaphors continue to be regarded as sentence phenomena (Werth 1994). Second, the compatibility of the notions of culture and cognition has been repeatedly challenged. The CL research paradigm has been criticized for its mentalistic thrust, leaving little leeway for exploring issues traditionally dealt with in anthropology and sociolinguistics. Similarly Gibbs (1999: 154) emphasises the necessity of “taking metaphor out of our heads and putting it into the cultural world.” Third, CL has chiefly focused on conceptual metaphor and metonymy (e.g. Panther/Radden 1999) as pervasive cognitive tools. Yet the mappings proposed are prone to schematicity.

It is against the background of these observations that this paper addresses the following points of interest. While subscribing to the omnipresence of conceptual metaphor, the primacy of spatio-temporal metaphorisations is advocated due to their discursivity and socio-cultural significance. The experiential basis of human conceptualisation is highlighted by the salience of spatial and temporal categories, both of which are not only central at every level of the conceptual system but also in the organisation of human life in society. Yet spatial cognition is not autonomous; instead it is essentially egocentric, anthropomorphic and relative (Levinson 2003). Thus spatial concepts are indicative of specific physical and cultural experiences. However, the same is valid for temporal cognition. Being pervasive in the conceptual system to the extent that the (phenomenological) awareness of time can be argued to derive from cognitive and perceptual processes (Evans 2004), temporal concepts must be regarded as socio-culturally determined (Luckmann 1991).

Accordingly, this paper elaborates on the spatio-temporal metaphors that have been proposed within CL. Specifying the metaphorical mappings of both ‘orientational metaphors’ (Lakoff/Johnson 1980) and temporal metaphors (e.g. Lakoff/Turner 1989) such as TIME IS A CHANGER, TIME MOVES, TIME IS A PURSUER I will illustrate the importance of spatio-temporal concepts at two levels of the conceptual system. On the one hand, temporal and spatial metaphors will be shown to fulfil important discourse functions within American political discourse. On the other hand, spatio-temporal concepts will be introduced as vital frames of reference for construing discourse semantics.

Using the methodological framework of text-world theory (Werth 1999) provides the missing link between CL and discourse analysis. This approach accommodates metaphor as a discourse phenomenon, building a text’s macrostructure as a so-called ‘extended metaphor’. Analysing American political discourse from this angle proves to be a rewarding challenge. Not only are the conceptualisations of time and space completely different from other instances of discourse they are also extremely pervasive, and, as such, indicative of American political culture.