Abstract

For centuries, the study of metaphor and metonymy was primarily the province of rhetoricians. Although scholars developed a number of variations on the theme, the prevailing perspectives, i.e. that these tropes are stylistic devices used primarily for literary purposes and result from some kind of transfer of meaning between similar entities, remained largely unchanged from Aristotle until the mid twentieth century. Aspects of this long tradition still exist in current accounts that continue to argue that metaphoric meaning is in some way deviant, involves transference, and should be analyzed on a word by word basis. In the last 50 years linguists, such as Lakoff and Sperber & Wilson, have joined philosophers, such as Black and Grice, in the debate. The result has been a sharp increase in interest in non-literal language and a number of major innovations in metaphor theory. Metaphor and metonymy are now understood to be ubiquitous aspects of language, not simply fringe elements. The study of metaphor and metonymy have provided a major source of evidence for Cognitive Linguists to argue against the position that a sharp divide exists between semantics and pragmatics. Mounting empirical data from psychology, especially work by Gibbs, has led many to question the sharp boundary between literal and metaphorical meaning. While distinct perspectives remain among contemporary metaphor theorists, very recent developments in relevance theory and cognitive semantics also show intriguing areas of convergence.

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