Theorizing the spread of American English metaphorical idioms
The spread of metaphorical idioms in Englishes and beyond. A suggestion for a theoretical framework Zoltn Kvecses ELTE, Budapest The issue
Consider the following metaphorical idioms that originated in US English: hit the panic button kill time kill a bottle kick someone upstairs shoot a movie go places grab a bite (to eat)
split the scene hit a roadblock spinning your wheels push up the daisies (blonde) bombshell lame duck a level playing field
my bad shoot oneself in the foot push things/sy/sg too far Most of these metaphorical idioms spread to British English and other varieties of English. Some of them also spread to Hungarian (and possibly to many other languages).
Several questions arise: (1) Why did they emerge in American English, and not in some other variant of English? (2) Why were many of them easily comprehended by speakers of other dialects of English, such as British English? (3) Why were they accepted into British English, and other languages? (4) How can we explain the cognitive ease with which speakers of
Hungarian comprehended these expressions? Question 1 (1) Why did they emerge in American English, and not in some other variant of English? The emergence of metaphors (including metaphorical idioms) is motivated by contextual influence. What is context?
The totality of our real (online) and represented (in long-term memory) experiences at the time of being engaged in discourse. Situational context: Physical environment: bite the dust (to die, orig. from Bible) Cultural situation: spinning your wheels (effort without result) Conceptual-cognitive context
Concerns and interests: action-orientedness: hit the hay, kill time, grab a bite History: out west, back east; pull up stakes (move on or home) Question 2 Why were many of them so easily comprehended by speakers of other dialects of English, such as British English?
Spinning your wheels : LIFE (or LOVE) IS A JOURNEY Person driving the car person leading a life Driving the car leading a life Spinning the wheels not making progress in life (or love) Question 3 Why were such expressions accepted into British English? Different theories:
1. no lexis to express the meaning (filling a lexical gap) 2. imagistic, evocative 3. humorous, playful No recent empirical research on the subject. Question 4 How can we explain the cognitive ease with which speakers of Hungarian comprehended these expressions?
Snta kacsa : lame duck Lbon lvi magt : shoot oneself in the foot Bombz : a (blonde) bombshell Lejt a plya vkinek/vminek : not have a level playing field Tltolja a biciklit : push it/things too far Snta kacsa : lame duck ACTION IS SELF-PROPELLED MOTION
(mi legyen a kvetkez lps? what should be the next step?, tovbb kell mennnk ezen az ton we have to go on on this path) The moving person the person who acts The self-propelled motion the action The inability to move the inability to act Lbon lvi magt : shoot oneself in the foot LOSSES / HARMS ARE PHYSICAL INJURIES
(egy lelkileg srlt ember an emotionally injured/hurt person) The person suffering the injury the person suffering the loss / harm The injury the loss / harm Causing injury causing loss / harm The injury caused to ourselves the loss / harm caused to ourselves Bombz (bomban, szexbomba): (blonde) bombshell EMOTIONAL / SPIRITUAL / PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFECTS ARE PHYSICAL EFFECTS
(mellbevgott, amit mondott it really hit me (in the chest) what he said; lebilincsel trtnet it is a handcuffing/fettering/schackling story) The physical effect the emotional / spiritual / effect The experiencer of the physical effect the experiencer of the emotional / effect The strength of the physical effect the intensity of the emotional / effect Lejt a plya vkinek/vminek (the field slopes to sy/sg): not have a
level playing field ACTION IS SELF-PROPELLED MOTION (in the case of competitors:) Equal difficulty of motion (for the two participants) fair action Tltolja a biciklit (push the bike beyond): push it / sy / things too far ACTION IS SELF-PROPELLED MOTION (visz)
(tlzsba visz valamit over / beyond take something) THE LIMITS ON THE ACTION ARE THE LIMITS OF THE MOTION (tl) The caused motion the caused action (tol) Creativity of the receiving language Why the bike? First: it is natural (it is a means of change of location) lawn mower? Second: its funny (what makes it funny?) drunks?
Why not having a level playing field in Hungarian? Cultural difference? More complexity to the analysis Lejt a plya : not have a level playing field "Our philosophy is that we have no problem competing with the mutual savings banks if they start from the level playing field," Bolger said. Schematicity hierarchy:
ACTION IS MOTION COMPETITON IS COMPETITIVE SPORTS (WITH MOTION ON A FIELD) COMPETITION BETWEEN BANKS IS FOOTBALL FAIR ACTION IN BANKING IS HAVING EQUAL DIFFICULTY IN MOTION ON THE FIELD What is needed for a general account?
Conclusions Using the theoretical framework and conceptual tools here helps us understand why certain metaphorical idioms emerged in American English; why speakers of British English can easily comprehend these idioms; why speakers of British English accept the idioms into their language; why speakers of Hungarian can readily comprehend, put to use, and
even elaborate on such idioms. General account Keywords in the proposed general account: Origin: contextual factors Transfer to and acceptance in BE: lexical gap, image, humor Transfer to and acceptance in HU: + cultural hegemony Comprehension in BE and HU: schematicity hierarchy
Creativity in HU: cultural specificities, cultural differences The work on which this talk is based: Kvecses, Zoltn. 2000. American English. An introduction. Broadview Press. 2015. Where metaphors come from. Reconsidering context in metaphor. Oxford University Press. 2017. Levels of metaphor. Cognitive Linguistics 28(2).
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