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Abstract Müller

Studying metaphors as they are used in spoken discourse reveals not only their multimodal character but also sheds light on the concept of metaphor itself (Cienki & Müller, 2008a, b). Rather than conceiving of metaphors as static entities – be they concepts, words, or gestures – the dynamic view conceives of metaphors as online created or activated products of cognitive procedures (Müller, 2003, 2007, 2008a,b). In this presentation it will be documented how this dynamic nature of metaphor may be empirically detected and – it will be suggested that it has substantial implications for a theory of metaphor.

Based on cognitive-semantic micro-analyses of metaphors in speech and gesture, we will show that metaphoricity is an inherently dynamic and gradable property of concepts, which may be activated to various degrees in a discourse. The flow as well as degrees of metaphoricity may be empirically reconstructed through three foregrounding principles: (1) the interactive salience principle: “the more salient a metaphoric gesture is for a co-participant, the more activated it is for a speaker”; (2) the iconic principle: “more material is more meaning” (a metaphor expressed in words and gesture concurrently foregrounds metaphoricity more than a metaphor expressed in one modality only); (3) the syntactic and semantic principle: “a metaphoric gesture which is syntactically and semantically integrated into an ongoing utterance, is highly salient for a recipient and indicates high activation of metaphoricity for a speaker” (a metaphoric gesture replacing a verbal metaphoric expression, cannot be dismissed by an interlocutor).

The cognitive-semantic microanalysis of multimodal forms of metaphors reveals, that entrenched and conventionalized metaphoric expressions may be creatively used in a discourse. As a theoretical consequence of this empirical fact we propose a dynamic category of verbal metaphors which ranges from sleeping to waking metaphors, depending on the degree of activated metaphoricity. This dynamic category relates to verbal metaphors in language use and it contrasts with a static category of verbal metaphors relating to language as a system, where we distinguish between historical, entrenched and novel metaphors. The criteria guiding this distinction are: conventionalization and transparency. Only metaphors that are transparent for an average language user may become subject to dynamic uses and maybe activated to varying degrees and for various purposes in a discourse. It is in this sense that the so-called 'dead' metaphors of ordinary language that scholars such as Ricoeur and Black have excluded from metaphor theory are actually alive – with their lifes ranging from sleeping to waking depending on particular situations and contexts of language use.

To conclude: the analyses of multimodal metaphors reveal that metaphors are the products of a cognitive process of constructing and activating metaphoricity online during language production. This view offers further support to the Applied Metaphor approach in that it underlines the necessity to distinguish between products and processes (Gibbs 1993), to distinguish forms of metaphors at different levels of language (Steen 2008, Cameron 1999) and most generally supports Cameron’s (1999: 4) take on “Language use in general” as something that is to be “considered as a complex, dynamic system in which language resources (...) are employed in particular contexts to achieve interactional goals under particular processing demands.”



Cameron, L. (1999) Operationalising metaphor for applied linguistic research. In: L. Cameron & G. D. Low (eds.) Researching and applying metaphor. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press, 3-28.

Cienki, A. & C. Müller (2008a) Metaphor, gesture and thought. In: R. W. Gibbs (ed.) Cambridge handbook of metaphor and thought. Cambridge: Cambridge. University Press. 483-501.

Cienki, A. & C. Müller (2008b) (Eds.) Metaphor and gesture. Amsterdam / Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Gibbs, R. W., Jr. (1993) Process and products in making sense of tropes. In: A. Ortony (ed.) Metaphor and thought (2nd ed.) (pp. 252-276). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Müller, C. (2003) Gestik als Lebenszeichen ‚toter Metaphern'. Tote, schlafende und wache Metaphern. Zeitschrift für Semiotik. 1-2, 61-72.

Müller, C. (2007) A dynamic view on matphor, gesture and thought. In S. D. Duncan, J. Cassell & E. Levy (eds.) Gesture and the dynamic dimension of language. Essays in honor of David McNeill. John Benjamins: Amsterdam/Philadelphia. 109-116.

Müller, C. (2008a) Metaphors: Dead and alive, sleeping and waking. A dynamic view. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Müller, C. (2008b) What gestures reveal about the nature of metaphor. In: A. Cienki & C. Müller (eds.) Metaphor and Gesture. Amsterdam/ Philadelphia: John Benjamins. 219-245.

Steen, G. J. (2008) Finding metaphor in grammar and usage. Amsterdam/ Philadelphia: John Benjamins.