Metaphorical Conceptualizations of Language: Networks of Meanings and Meta-functions

Martin Cortazzi, Lixian Jin


This paper employs the innovative method of Elicited Metaphor Analysis to present original research in Malaysia into students’ metaphors for ‘language’. We summarize reasons why language and first/ second language learning are centrally important in education, and show patterned features of language metaphors in proverbs and in teacher talk about literacy. These may be one strand of student socialization into language-literacy conceptions. We then report our study of 408 university students in Malaysia who gave 977 metaphors for ‘language’. Using a socio-cultural extension of conceptual metaphor theory from cognitive linguistics, we analyse these data into thematic clusters and metaphor networks of meanings. In student voices, this presents a surprisingly rich picture of language and shows evidence of linguistic meta-functions: student metaphors for language can be seen not only cognitively with affective and socio-cultural meta-functions, but also with moral-spiritual and aesthetic functions. These meta-functions accord with some educational theories. To show wider insider metaphor perspectives we cite our research with ‘teacher’ and ‘learning’ metaphors in Malaysia, and ‘language’ findings from China, Iran, Lebanon and the UK. The metaphor meanings and meta-functions broaden our conception of language as a medium of learning with strong implications for the teaching of languages and literacy.


Language Concepts, Metaphor Analysis, Meta-functions, Networks of Meanings

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