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Cognitive Linguistics

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Volume 28, Issue 4


Conceptual representations and figurative language in language shift

Metaphors and gestures for emotions in Kriol (Barunga, northern Australia)

Maïa Ponsonnet
  • Corresponding author
  • School of Social Sciences, The University of Western Australia & The University of Sydney, Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language (Australian National University), Perth, Australia
  • The University of Sydney and Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language, Australian National University, Sydney, Australia
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Published Online: 2017-10-31 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cog-2016-0020


This article explores the correlations between linguistic figurative features and their corresponding conceptual representations, by considering their respective continuities and discontinuities in language shift. I compare the figurative encoding of emotions in Kriol, a creole of northern Australia, with those of Dalabon, one of the languages replaced by this creole, with a particular focus on evidence from metaphorical gestures. The conclusions are three-fold. Firstly, the prominent figurative association between the body and the emotions observed in Dalabon is, overall, not matched in Kriol. Secondly, although this association is not prominent in Kriol, it is not entirely absent. It surfaces where speakers are less constrained by linguistic conventions: in non-conventionalized tropes, and gestures in particular. Indeed, some of the verbal emotion metaphors that have disappeared with language shift are preserved as gestural metaphors. Thus, Kriol speakers endorse the conceptual association between emotions and the body, in spite of the lower linguistic incidence of this association. The third conclusion is that therefore, in language shift, conceptual figurative representations and linguistic figurative representations are independent of each other. The former can persist when the latter largely disappear. Conversely, the fact that speakers endorse a certain type of conceptual representation does not entail that they will use corresponding linguistic forms in the new language. The transfer of linguistic figurative representations seems to depend, instead, upon purely linguistic parameters.

Keywords: language shift; emotion metaphors; gestures; creole; linguistic relativity


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About the article

Received: 2016-02-27

Accepted: 2017-03-03

Revised: 2016-12-01

Published Online: 2017-10-31

Published in Print: 2017-11-27

Citation Information: Cognitive Linguistics, Volume 28, Issue 4, Pages 631–671, ISSN (Online) 1613-3641, ISSN (Print) 0936-5907, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cog-2016-0020.

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