Embodied Experience and Metaphorical Meaning
Where do metaphors get their meanings? Contemporary theories of metaphor debate the motivations for metaphorical meanings in language. I will argue that a people’s recurring embodied experiences provide a significant and enduring constraint on the exact meanings many linguistic metaphors convey. I discuss the results of two studies, one a survey examining people’s mental imagery about their embodied experiences with paths and roads, with the second providing a corpus analysis of the ways path and road are metaphorically used in discourse. My hypothesis is that both people’s mental imagery for path and road, and speakers’ use of these words in metaphorical contexts are strongly guided by their embodied understandings of real-world events related to travel on paths and roads. The results of these studies demonstrate how bodily experiences with artifacts partly constrains not only how specific conceptual metaphors emerge, but how different metaphorical understandings are applied in talk about abstract entities and events. I use these findings to argue for a dynamical view of human performance in which embodied actions play a central role in creating metaphorical language.