September 30, 2012

Meaning. Metaphors. Culture.

When I was looking over some class notes to draw parallels with Lackoff and Johnson’s discussion of metaphors, something I jotted down about Locke jumped out at me.  “For Locke, knowledge could be arrived at by experience, question, reason, investigation, observation (not merely revelation); human nature could be regarded the basis of critical judgment.”  That last sentence in particular I felt truly coincided with what Lackoff and Johnson were trying to present.  In my own words, what I believe these theorists are trying to communicate is that as humans we create meaning in the world around us by defining our own experiences in relation to one another.  We find comradery through understanding one another, and by creating a norm for universal understanding on a cultural level, we are able give these experiences (concepts, words) meaning that anyone who is a part of that culture will understand.

Lackoff and Johnson believe that to create meaning we must use metaphors.  More than that, they believe that metaphors are not simply a literary tool, but rather a natural part of our thought process in understanding the world around us.  Lackoff and Johnson illustrate this concept by showing us how we create an understanding of arguments by metaphorically linking them to war, and later do the same with time and money.  To quote them directly, “The essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another.. It is not that arguments are a subspecies of war. Arguments and wars are different kinds of things--verbal discourse and armed conflict--and the actions performed are different kinds of actions. But ARGUMENT is partially structured, understood, performed, and talked about in terms of WAR. The concept is metaphorically structured, the activity is metaphorically structured, and, consequently, the language is metaphorically structured.”

Lackoff and Johnson also discuss how we (our culture) view the concept of an argument may be completely different from how another culture views the term.  They use the example of one culture metaphorically linking it’s understanding of argument to war, while another may link it to dance or performance.  The entire understanding of argument (how it is viewed, the actual process of arguing and proper steps to take to successfully argue) would be completely different in each culture.  We as a culture create the norm for the meaning by linking our understanding of the concept metaphorically with something we view as similar.  I found this to coincide with Locke’s view of creating meaning through the human experience.  Each human experience is unique, but as humans we seek to belong, to understand and categorize every concept around us, to give meaning and names to these concepts we all experience.  We form groups (cultures) where this meaning is understood by all who participate and who are a part of that culture.  So my question is how do we know which cultures understanding of a concept is correct?  Is there even a correct way of understanding, if we are the ones who create the meanings for the concept?  In my opinion there isn’t one correct answer, and I believe that is what these theorists are pointing out.  

The agency lies with humans, with their power to experience a feeling, observe an object or action, and categorize it in a way that others in their culture can understand.  Because we are the creators of this understanding, we draw from previously established norms to describe new meanings (ie: metaphorically linking our understanding of war to that of argument).


George Dean said...

I agree with your take on Lakoff and Johnson’s reading. Especially the point you made on agency and its connection with societies metaphors. All of societies metaphors are culturally sound and come from prevalent and current ordeals. The public determines what metaphors are appropriate and how they can be properly used. What phrases are spoken in one country might hold another meaning in another or not make any sense. In the reading they also give the example that “time is money”, this comes from the idea that in order to earn and make money you have to spend time doing so. In relation money and an individual’s own time share common ground. Metaphors such as this do not exist all over the world but are derived from societies makeup and basic everyday routines.
This process of phrase creation from within the culture stands beside the term agency. For the culture is in its own way the agency, moving the metaphor forward and producing action. The populaces of a given area are the creators and are establishing customary usages for these metaphors.

gabyjoe21 said...

I agree The only way for a thought or idea to be expressed is by assigning words to them. As humans we have learned to express ourselves through words. Our individual experiences and ideals are what gives words meaning and what makes different words ultimately more or less significant to each person individually.

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