Metaphor interpretation and cultural linguistics

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Metaphor use is characterised by conceptual variation that can be explained with reference to culture-specific discourse traditions. Cognitively oriented metaphor analyses that are interested in cultural relativity have so far concentrated mainly on the production side of metaphors and their misunderstanding by ESL learners. This study, by contrast, focuses on variation in metaphor interpretation across groups of ESL/EFL users from 31 cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Its data consist of a questionnaire survey, administered in 10 countries, which gave students the task of applying the metaphor of the “body politic” to one’s home nation. The results show systematic variation between four interpretation models for this metaphor, i.e. NATION AS GEOBODY, NATION AS FUNCTIONAL WHOLE, NATION AS PART OF SELF and NATION AS PART OF INTERNATIONAL/GLOBAL STRUCTURE, as well as some evidence of elaborate polemical and/or political elaboration. The two main versions, i.e. NATION AS GEOBODY and NATION AS FUNCTIONAL WHOLE, were represented across all cohorts but exhibited opposite frequency patterns across Chinese v. Western cohorts, with the former favouring GEOBODY-based, the latter functional interpretations. This finding and the evidence of elaborate metaphor interpretations lead to culture-specific motivations of variation in metaphor interpretation (as well as in metaphor production), specifically with regard to the frequency and distribution patterns of source concepts. Metaphor interpretation analysis can thus contribute to a cognitive metaphor analysis in general and especially to “cultural linguistics” approach to metaphor.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-51
Number of pages17
JournalLanguage and Semiotic Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 25 Oct 2015


  • body politic
  • cognitive linguistics
  • cultural linguistics
  • discourse
  • English as Second Language/as Lingua Franca
  • interpretation
  • metaphor
  • metonymy
  • variation

Cite this