Zooming in on empirical methods in metaphor research

Zooming in on empirical methods in metaphor research

Plenary panel session

Conveners:    Paula Pérez-Sobrino (University of La Rioja, Spain) and    Nina Julich (Leipzig University, Germany)

We have been witnessing an increasing concern for making research methods explicit in the recent RaAM editions. Scholars have been studying metaphorical expressions and their underlying conceptual mappings in language, and their non-verbal manifestation in pictures, music, or gestures, as well as combinations of these in multimodal contexts. This line of research has been expanded to other languages beyond English, thus addressing two of the major criticisms to the initial version of Conceptual Metaphor Theory: that it is based on linguistic data, and largely dependent on examples in English.

 However, little has been done to strengthen the study of metaphor from the point of view of the research methods, at least compared with work in other fields such as the cognitive sciences, corpus linguistics, and psychology. While scholars have addressed the need for empirical studies in metaphor research (e.g. (Cameron & Low, 1999; Deignan, 2005; Gibbs, 2007; Low et al. 2010; Semino, 2008; Stefanowitsch & Gries, 2006) and have developed protocols to reduce the analyst bias in some aspects of the analysis of metaphor (such as metaphor identification, e.g. (Krennmayr, 2013; Pragglejaz, 2007; G. J. Steen, 2009; G. J. Steen et al., 2010; G.J. Steen, 1999) many aspects of metaphor are still not consistently addressed empirically. Metaphor studies would strongly benefit from an open forum of discussion about ways to operationalise different aspects of metaphor research to circumvent one of the remaining criticisms to CMT, i.e. that it is highly subjective and introspective (Gibbs, 2007, 2011).

 The topic of this year’s RaAM conference, Metaphorical Creativity in a Multilingual World, offers the opportunity to reflect on the ways to overcome two of major criticisms to the initial version of Conceptual Metaphor Theory: that it is based on linguistic data, and largely dependent on examples in English.

 Areas of interest

The aim of the discussion panel is to discuss (and problematise) (a) the variety of data that can be collected (linguistic, gestural, visual) and (b) the different ways in which it can be studied empirically (corpus research, qualitative enquiry, behavioural experiments) in order to better understand the form and function of metaphor usage. In particular, the discussion panel will address the following three main topics:

(1) What counts as a metaphor? Can we reliably identify metaphor in creative contexts?

 The recent interest of scholars for non-exclusively verbal manifestations of metaphor (in pictures, music, or gestures, as well as combinations of these in multimodal contexts) has largely contributed to enrich the notion of “metaphorical creativity”, but has at the same time generated a number of research challenges that originate in the non-verbal nature of the data. For example: how can we reliably identify non-verbal metaphorical manifestations? What counts as a unit of analysis? To what extent can researchers replicate each other’s analysis? We will discuss practical ways to make our research on creativity more transparent and replicable.

 (2) This is a wild wild world!  What does the study of other languages beyond English bring to the notion of metaphor as a conceptual device?

 Contrastive and typological studies carry a number of methodological decisions and ways of operationalising the study of normed data and metaphor that could greatly help to refine the research carried in the field (as well as to raise potential issues). Besides the fact that too much research focuses on English (thus weakening the generalisation of the results), focusing on languages other than English may shed light on aspects of languages unaccounted to date.

 (3) From theory to the methods – and back! How can a reflection on the methods strengthen the theory?

 After discussing in the two previous sections the ways in which we should refine our methods to reflect the main tenets of the theory, we also want to take a step back to reflect on the ways in which actual research calls for a redefinition of key theoretical constructs.

 Guest discussants

 We aim to bring together views from different experts who will reflect on different aspects of methods to address the conceptual nature of metaphor as well as creativity and multilingualism in metaphor research. The main goal of this discussion panel is to raise red flags based on actual experience in researching and applying metaphor, and to provide potential solutions to address methodological challenges for future work in metaphor research.

The following experts will illustrate different methods-related challenges and opportunities with examples based on their experience and expertise.

    Beate Hampe (Universität Erfurt, Germany) and   Irene Mittelberg (RWTH Aachen, Germany) will address methodological issues related to the identification and analysis of metaphor in gestural data, especially focusing on the challenges that arise in a more quantitatively oriented gesture analysis.

    Veronika Koller (Lancaster University) will discuss ways to operationalise the analysis of metaphor in naturally occurring data as well as best practice examples of how to study metaphor “in the wild”.

    Simon Devylder  Jordan Zlatev  Georgios Stampoulidis (Lund University, Sweden) will emphasise the need for a more culturally diverse, as well as a contrastive perspective in the study of metaphor, based on their research in Oceanic languages.

    Camilla di Biase-Dyson (Göttingen University, Germany) will explore and problematize the use of current tools to examine the interface of language and cognition in metaphor research from a diachronic perspective, with a focus on Egyptian hieroglyphs

    Jeannette Littlemore (University of Birmingham, UK) and   Sarah Turner (University of Coventry, UK) will reflect on the ways in which their research on topics that have not been traditionally tackled in metaphor studies (miscarriage, religion, synesthesia, among others) may raise critical questions as to the nature of metaphor, and the issue of metaphoricity as a dynamic phenomenon.

 Structure of the panel

The panel will be structured as follows:

  • Welcome and rationale for the panel (panel conveners)
  • Round of opening statements (guest panelists)
  • Questions for panelists (we will try to pair a senior with a junior researcher) around the three main topics outlined above
  • Open Q&A with audience
  • Wrap-up round of closing statements (guest panelists and panel conveners)



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Deignan, A. (2005). Metaphor and Corpus Linguistics. John Benjamins Publishing.

Gibbs, R. W. (2007). Why cognitive linguists should care more about empirical methods. https://doi.org/10.1075/hcp.18.06gib

Gibbs, R. W. (2011). Evaluating Conceptual Metaphor Theory. Discourse Processes48(8), 529–562. https://doi.org/10.1080/0163853X.2011.606103

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Steen, G. J. (2009). From linguistic form to conceptual structure in five step: Analyzing metaphor in poetry. Cognitive Poetics: Goals, Gains and Gaps, 197–226.

Steen, G. J., Dorst, A. G., Herrmann, J. B., Kaal, A. A., Krennmayr, T., & Pasma, T. (2010). A method for linguistic metaphor identification. From MIP to MIPVU. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Steen, G.J. (1999). From linguistic to conceptual metaphor in five steps. Metaphor in Cognitive Linguistics, 57.

Stefanowitsch, A., & Gries, S. (2006). Corpus-Based Approaches to Metaphor and Metonymy. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110199895