Liane Ströbel

Gerard Steen: Sensory motor concepts in four registers of English – Exploring the VU Amsterdam Metaphor Corpus with Wmatrix

Sensory motor concepts in four registers of English – Exploring the VU Amsterdam Metaphor Corpus with Wmatrix

The idea that sensory-motor concepts are basic to the structure of our thought and language has given rise to new theoretical and empirical work in cognitive linguistics which ties in with the nature and function of metaphor as a cross-domain mapping facilitating the understanding of one thing in terms of something else (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980, 1999; Gibbs, 1994, 2006). The recent turn this cognitive-linguistic work has taken focuses on the relation between perception and meaning via the use of image schemas in primary metaphors (Mandler, 2004; Hampe, 2005), sensory–motor concepts playing a pivotal role in the theoretical and empirical arguments. One limitation with most of this work is that it has used a selection of relatively clear examples, including difficulties are burdens  (heavy/ light taxes) or quantity is height (rising/soaring/plummeting unemployment). The present contribution aims to take a step forward by examining four relatively large datasets of metaphorical language use and raising the question how metaphorically used sensory-motor concepts behave ‘in the wild.’

The data come from the VU Amsterdam Metaphor Corpus, an annotated sample from the British National Corpus (Steen, Dorst, et al., 2010a). It comprises some 190,000 words divided across four registers of spoken and written English: conversation, fiction, news, and academic texts. Data analysis has shown that there is a substantial degree of interaction between register, word class and metaphor, with an average of 13.6% of all words being used metaphorically (Steen, Dorst, et al., 2010b).

In the present talk I will discuss the distribution of four semantic domains across these data: ‘Location and direction’,  ‘Moving, coming, and going’, ‘Putting, pushing, pulling, transporting’, and ‘Sensory’. These are four categories distinguished by Wmatrix, a program assigning semantic tags to lexical units in natural text (Rayson, 2008). Application of Wmatrix to the VU Amsterdam Metaphor Corpus will enable close inspection of all metaphorical uses of all terms included in these three semantic domains. This will throw a usage-based light on the question how these large sets of linguistic forms can be seen to reflect a clear and fundamental role of sensory-motor concepts for modelling more abstract domains of experience.