Metaphors: sources for intercultural misunderstanding?

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Over the last two decades, questions of languages’ cultural specificity, diversity, and of linguistic universalism versus relativism, have increasingly been applied to the study of metaphor in analyses that take data from a wide range of languages into account. After reviewing existing research on cross-cultural metaphor variation, this paper focuses on the phenomenon of ‘false-friend metaphors,’ i.e., seemingly identical mappings which reveal hidden culture-specific differences when used in intercultural communication and in contrastive analysis. Examples of this phenomenon are drawn (1) from interpretations tasks concerning the metaphor THE STATE IS A (HUMAN) BODY, and (2) from cross-cultural research on the concept of SOCIAL FACE. In conclusion, a preliminary categorization of types of metaphor-induced intercultural misunderstanding is proposed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)42–59
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Language and Culture
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • metaphor
  • intercultural communication
  • culture
  • false friends
  • miscommunication

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