Interdisziplinäres Zentrum für Kognitive Sprachforschung

Links und Funktionen



Abstract Rube

The conceptual closeness and distance scale: A contribution to the metonymy-metaphor continuum debate from lexical motivation research

In a recent paper Radden (2002) sets up a continuum, or better, a graduated scale of different conceptualisation processes which starts with literalness and ranges over partial metonymy, i.e. partonymy, metonymy and metonymy based metaphor to metaphor. At the bottom of this scale, even if not stated explicitly, is a gradation from conceptual identity via conceptual closeness up to conceptual distance.

In this talk I will focus on Radden’s notion of metonymy which is defined as mapping within one single domain, whereby domain is understood following Langacker (1991: 547) as „any coherent area of conceptualisation relative to which semantic structures can be characterized (including any kind of experience, concept or knowledge system)”. He concentrates in his article on the notion of metonymy-based metaphor and he presupposes the following different metonymic sources of that metaphor type: common experiential basis (correlation or complementary), implicature (implicated result and causation, implicated possession, implicated purpose and activity), category structure, cultural models (physical forces, communication and language, emotions and their physiological reactions).

On the basis of the theoretical background of Koch (2001 and 2004), I will argue that there are good reasons to substitute the rather ambiguous notion of domain by the theoretically more strongly delimited notion of frame. We thus have to exclude examples like bad ‘good’ which are rather relations of conceptual contrast and taxonomic relations as well - which are also explicitly excluded by Croft (2002: 167) - from the realm of metonymy. This theoretical differentiation is further supported by findings of a pilot study on lexical motivation of polysemous and derived words: when asked to motivate some lexical units and to describe the semantic relations between motivated and motivating unit, subjects clearly distinguished between contrast and other relation types. A more complex picture arises from the descriptions of potentially taxonomically motivated units, but underlying a similar picture emerges: taxonomic relations are also differentiated from other relation types.

Coming back to Radden’s starting point of the so called continuum I will argue that we should locate contrast and taxonomic separately from metonymic relations on the conceptual closeness and distance scale. Contrast is the most “distant” relation type and taxonomic sub- and superordination are closer to the other end of the scale located between partonymy and metonymy.

In this way the evidence of our survey data can provide a useful contribution to the study of lexical semantics by distinguishing taxonomic and contrast relations from metonymic relations and thus improving the empirical adequacy of Radden’s metonymy-metaphor continuum.



Croft, W. (2002): “The role of domains in the interpretation of metaphors and metonymy”, in: Dirven/Pörings, 161-205.

Dirven, R./Pörings, R. (eds.) (2002): Metaphor and Metonymy in Comparison and Contrast, Berlin/NewYork.

Koch, P. (2001): “Lexical typology from a cognitive and linguistic point of view”, in: Haspelmath, M. et al. (eds.): Language Typology and Language Universals. An International Handbook, Berlin/New York, 1142-1178.

Koch, P. (2004): “Metonymy between pragmatics, reference, and diachrony”, in: 07, 6-54.

Langacker, R. W. (1991): Foundations of Cognitive Grammar. Vol. II. Descriptive Application, Stanford.

Radden, G. (2002): “How metonymic are metaphors?”, in: Dirven/Pörings, 407-434.