The Bidirectionality of Metaphor
Views on the role of metaphor in language have varied ever since Aristotle discovered it and described its features. Traditional accounts of metaphor have seen it as a form of comparison or substitution for literal language, or else a “deviant” form of semantics. This situation changed in the twentieth century, starting with the work of I. A. Richards and the early gestalt psychologists, who put forward arguments and evidence that led, by the later part of the century, to the view that metaphor was more than a digression from literal language; rather, it was a trace of how meaning and concepts are formed. The major models that are derived from this perspective are generally discussed under the rubrics of “interaction,” “projection,” and “blending.” Each model can be described as a “unidirectional” one, since it posits essentially that metaphor is the result of enlisting concrete vehicles in order to shed light on (and even construct) abstract topics. By and large, these models have not entertained the possibility that metaphor is actually a “bidirectional” process, not only enlisting concrete vehicles to guide abstract conceptualization but also the reverse: abstract topics allow us to understand the vehicles. In other words, the parts of a metaphor implicate each other in tandem. This article will argue for a bidirectional model of metaphor. Such a model has implications for both linguistics and psychology — mainly, that the traditional view of metaphor as a process that makes abstractions understandable through vehicles or source domains may be moot, even though it might have practical functions and validity in specific instances of cognition.
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