Mellomemne i engelsk språkvitenskap, vårsemesteret 1998

E-282 Pragmatics: Word Meaning and Metaphor

Førsteamanuensis Peter Svenonius


Word Meaning and Metaphor


The meanings of expressions are built up out of the meanings of words; but the meanings conveyed by words are not always their literal meanings. In this course we take up various aspects of word meaning, including in particular an examination of metaphorical usage of words and expressions.

The course starts with some basic readings in semantics and pragmatics, in order to provide students with the necessary background for what is to follow. Next we turn to metaphor, reading classic works in the field which express a variety of viewpoints (e.g. whether a proper understanding of metaphor is better achieved by examining the speaker's intentions or by considering the effect of the metaphor on the hearer), and more recent material such as that by Lakoff.

According to Lakoff, ordinary language is riddled with metaphorical usage; even an expression like "fall asleep" invokes a metaphorical use of 'fall'. However, this perspective has been criticized for failing to capture the difference between poetic metaphor and the networks of associations that words have in ordinary usage. The third and final part of the course thus turns to the more literal aspects of word meaning, including issues of word classification and lexical decomposition (separating the basic components of word meaning).


The reading list below is based on twelve weeks of discussion of syllabus, plus one week of discussion of non-syllabus texts, one week of student presentations, and one week of summary.



1. Truth; semantics

Fromkin, Victoria, and Robert Rodman. 1993. 'Semantics: The Meanings of Language'; ch. 4 of An Introduction to Language (fifth edition), pp. 123-166. Harcourt Brace, Orlando, FL.


2. Implication; pragmatics

Grice, H. P. 1975. 'Logic and Conversation,' in Syntax and Semantics 3: Speech Acts, ed. by Peter Cole and Jerry Morgan, pp. 41-58. Academic Press, New York.



1. Speaker meaning versus linguistic meaning

Searle, John. 1979. 'Metaphor,' essay 4 in Expression and Meaning: Studies in the Theory of Speech Acts, pp. 76-116. Cambridge University Press.


2. The effect of a metaphorical utterance on its audience

Davidson, Donald. 1978. 'What Metaphors Mean,' Critical Inquiry 5: 31-47.


3. Metaphors in Ordinary Language

Reddy, Michael. 1979. 'The Conduit Metaphor: A Case of Frame Conflict in our Language about Language, ' in Metaphor and Thought (second edition 1993), ed. by Andrew Ortony, pp. 164-201. Cambridge University Press.

Lakoff, George. 1993. 'The Contemporary Theory of Metaphor' in Metaphor and Thought (second edition), ed. by Andrew Ortony, pp. 202-251. Cambridge University Press.


4. Metaphors in Poetry

Lakoff, George, and Mark Turner. 1989. 'Life, Death, and Time'; ch. 1 of More than Cool Reason: A Field Guide to Poetic Metaphor, pp. 1-56. The University of Chicago Press.


5. Distinguishing Metaphorical from Non-metaphorical language

Jackendoff, Ray, and David Aaron. 1991. Review of Lakoff & Turner 1989. Language 67.2:320-338.




1. Definitions, Categories, and Prototypes

Aitchison, Jean. 1987. 'Bad Birds and Better Birds: Prototype Theories', in Words in the Mind. Basil Blackwell.

Wierzbicka, Anna. 1985. 'Cups and Mugs,' §1.1-5.1 of ch. 1 of Lexicography and Conceptual Analysis, pp. 10-61. Karoma, Ann Arbor.


2. Categories Applied to a Construction

Wierzbicka, Anna. 1988. 'Why Can You Have a Drink When You Can't *Have an Eat?,' in The Semantics of Grammar, pp. 293-357. John Benjamins, Amsterdam.


3. Categorization on Syntactic Grounds

Pustejovsky, James. 1995. 'The Nature of Lexical Knowledge'; ch. 2 of The Generative Lexicon, pp. 5-26. MIT Press, Cambridge, Ma.


4. Atoms of Meaning: Lexical Decomposition

Jackendoff, Ray. 1983. 'The Syntax of Conceptual Structure'; ch. 4 of Semantics and Cognition, pp. 57-76. MIT Press, Cambridge, Ma.


5. A Fine-Grained Categorial Analysis

Levin, Beth, and Malka Rappaport Hovav. 1991. 'Wiping the Slate Clean: A Lexical-Semantic Exploration,' in Lexical and Conceptual Semantics, ed. by Beth Levin & Steven Pinker, pp. 123-151. Basil Blackwell, Oxford.

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