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Metaphors Dead and Alive, Sleeping and Waking

A Dynamic View

Traditional thinking on metaphors has divided them into two camps: dead and alive. Conventional expressions from everyday language are classified as dead, while much rarer novel or poetic metaphors are alive. In the 1980s, new theories on the cognitive processes involved with the use of metaphor challenged these assumptions, but with little empirical support. Drawing on the latest research in linguistics, semiotics, philosophy, and psychology, Cornelia Müller here unveils a new approach that refutes the rigid dead/alive dichotomy, offering in its place a more dynamic model: sleeping and waking.
To build this model, Müller presents an overview of notions of metaphor from the classical period to the present; studies in detail how metaphors function in speech, text, gesture, and images; and examines the way mixed metaphors sometimes make sense and sometimes do not. This analysis leads her to conclude that metaphors may oscillate between various degrees of sleeping and waking as their status changes depending on context and intention. Bridging the gap between conceptual metaphor theory and more traditional linguistic theories, this book is a major advance for the field and will be vital to novices and initiates alike.

Author Information

Cornelia Müller is professor of applied linguistics at European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder). She is coeditor of several books and the author of Co-verbal Gestures: Cultural History—Theory—Cross-linguistic Comparison.


“This is a deeply insightful book that both opens up many paths for future research and sheds new light on a problem of millennial standing: the power of metaphor. I anticipate that this work will have a major and lasting impact. Placing metaphor at the center, Müller has brought a new dynamic dimension to linguistic theory.”
— David McNeill, University of Chicago

“Cornelia Müller’s book is original and important in its contents and its scope, clearly making the case that the traditional dichotomy of metaphors as being either ‘dead’ or ‘alive’ is passé. Her multidisciplinary project incorporates research from linguistics, semiotics, philosophy, and psychology and analyzes material from spoken discourse and written texts as well as visual aspects of communication that can accompany them, such as gestures and photographs. This insightful book is thoroughly grounded in the history of research on metaphor while at the same time being up-to-date on a broad range of current topics.”

— Alan Cienki, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam

"Though this study is abstract and philosophical, Mueller's well-organized discussion and contextualized and empirical data make the book readable and accessible."
— Choice

Audience: Professional and scholarly;