The Role of Linguistic Frequency Effects in Shaping Metaphorical Systems

Volume 16
Issue 1
Daniel R. Sanford
The functionalist view of language has arisen from analysis of the effect of repetition on the storage and processing of language at a variety of levels of linguistic structure. Applied to metaphor, the approach places metaphorical conventionalization at the center of our understanding of metaphor, explaining several important aspects of metaphorical systems (their internal systematicity, the gradedness of metaphor, the idiosyncracy of conventionalized metaphorical utterances, and others) as arising from the cumulative effect, over time, of frequency effects at the level of both conceptual mappings and utterances. Ray Gibbs has argued that such a view of metaphor ignores the essential contribution to our understanding of metaphorical systems that comes from semantic factors, and above all else the nature of metaphor as following from embodied cognition. In this article, I respond to several of Gibbs’ major objections to Emergent Metaphor Theory. In responding to these concerns, I take the position that embodiment and other cognitive factors must indeed be included in a full accounting of metaphor. I argue that a frequency-based account of metaphor is fully compatible with semantic factors, and moreover that the aspects of metaphor which follow from frequency effects are essential, defining attributes of metaphorical systems.

Key words: Emergent Metaphor Theory, metaphor, frequency, conventionalization, exemplar, schema, emergence, embodied cognition