The social-cognitive dynamics of metaphor performance

Here is the into to Raymond and Lynne’s paper:

Any extended analysis of everyday talk reveals the presence of stretches of language that convey metaphorical meaning. Consider, as one example, the following remarkable conversation between Jo Berry, whose father, Sir Anthony Berry, was killed by a bomb in 1984, and Patrick Magee, who planted the bomb on behalf on the Irish Republican Army during their conflict with the British government. Jo Berry had asked to meet Pat Magee in order to understand more about why the bombing happened, and they first met in 1999, after Pat Magee was released from prison under a peace agreement. Extract 1 comes from the first of the conversations and shows Jo explaining why she wanted to meet Pat. She refers to moment of the bombing in line 91 and to meeting Pat in lines 103 and 104.

Extract 1
90 Jo …I knew,
91 …(2.0) backin the moment,
92 wh- what I wanted to do,
93 … was bring as much –
94 …(2.0) something –
95 … as much positive out of it as I could.
96 … you know,
97 Pat [hmh]
98 Jo …(1.0) [and] I –
99 and I saw very clearly.
100 …(1.0) that the –
101 …the end of that journey,
102 would be,
103 …sitting down and,
104 …talking to the people who did it.
105 Pat … hmh
106 Jo … that just camein a moment,
107 and then went away,
108 and then –
109 … there’s been a longlong .. 16 years of [getting to this point].
110 Pat [hmh hmh]

There are several instances of metaphorically used words and phrases in this excerpt, which we have underlined. For instance, “back in” in line 91 conveys the idea of Jo’s remembering the bombing as if she were physically moving back into a specific spatial location. The idea of being able to “bring” “something” “out of it” refers to Jo’s mental reconstructing the bombing in terms of movement from one physical location to another, but this time in the possession of an important object (i.e., a new understanding). We also see in lines 99–101 that Jo conceives this process of reconciliation, and sitting down to talk with Pat, as the endpoint of a physical journey along some path where the psychological goal is understood as a destination (i.e., endpoint) on the path.

Why do speakers, like Jo, talk in these metaphorical ways, and what motivates them to utter the particular words they do to achieve different communicative effects? Is the use of metaphoric words and phrases idiosyncratic or can it be explained in some principled manner? The vast interdisciplinary research on metaphor use and understanding suggests that there are multiple reasons for why people speak metaphorically. Quite roughly, the possible reasons for speaking metaphorically refer to bodily, cognitive, linguistic, social, and cultural variables. For instance, people may employ certain metaphoric words and phrases because they typically think about particular, usually abstract, domains in metaphoric terms (cognitive), because there is no way to express specific meanings in a language without using metaphor (linguistic), because they wish to impress or persuade another person by the words used (social), and/or because their cultural beliefs and norms are conventionally encoded in specific metaphorical themes (cultural). Much of the contemporary scholarship in metaphor studies debates these, and other, possible reasons for why people use metaphorical language and how they interpret metaphors in discourse. This has led to a vast complex of alternative methods, empirical findings, and theories of metaphor use, with individual metaphor scholars exhibiting the strong tendency to focus on certain aspects of metaphor and adopt one perspective on metaphor use (e.g., cognitive or linguistic) while downplaying or ignoring others (e.g., social or cultural).

We believe that all these varying perspectives on metaphor have the potential to offer important insights into the use and understanding of metaphor in discourse. But the vast number of possible factors involved in metaphor use, and their complex interactions, makes it difficult to adjudicate between competing theories. Our aim is in this article is to suggest a different way of looking at metaphor by embracing a dynamical systems approach that better captures the total ecology of human behavior, and more specifically metaphor performance. The key to this idea is the recognition that metaphor performance is shaped by discourse processes that operate in a continual dynamic interaction between individual cognition and the social and physical environment. Dynamical approaches to human action attempt to describe how the body’s continuous interactions with the world, including other people, provide for coordinated patterns of adaptive behavior. Simple and complex behaviors are higher-order products of self-organization processes that emerge from both intra and interpersonal interactions. We argue that the complexities of metaphoric language use (i.e., how people coordinate with each other through metaphor) emerge from self-organizational processes that operate along a range of different time-scales, from the millisecond to the evolutionary, and across a range of scales of social group size, from the individual and dyad to the speech community. The phenomena of metaphor performance are, we suggest, best studied in terms of continuously dynamic discourse processes. This framework for studying metaphor recasts some traditional questions about metaphor use and understanding and suggests the need for a closer link in characterizing social and cognitive processes in human behavior.