The interaction between body and culture in metaphor understanding

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The eating experience in English

The eating experience seems to have a less significant presence in English. It appears that this concrete familiar experience serves to figure out a limited number of abstract domains. In addition to framing consumption in terms of eating, the English language does not allow for varied imaginative scenarios of the eating experience. This can be traced back to the peculiarities of the English cuisine which does not allow the mappings to appear or the preferences of the English speakers to use these experiences or not.
The selected eating experience The corresponding meaning
– eating crow – humiliating defeat
– eat out of someone’s hand – being manipulated
– eat someone alive – domination
– eating one’s hat – surprise
– eat dirt – suffering humiliation
– eat someone’s dust – considerable loss
– eat humble pie – accepting humiliation
– eating one’s heart – grief and sufferance
It appears that most expressions describing the eating experience to frame abstract concepts revolve around the meaning of dominance. The DOMINANCE schema is conspicuously shared across the three languages. The metaphorical understanding of dominance in terms of an eating experience is common to the three languages since they all frame eating in terms of dominance, the eater is the dominant and the food is the dominated part. Dominance involves a relationship between at least two parts governed by opposing roles; one part holding the power and another part being subject to the authority of the former. The unconscious knowledge about the supremacy of human beings on their food serves to be mapped onto more abstract situation governed by this type of relationships. Originally, people’s quest for food has always been equated to the degree of their dominance and supremacy over their food. In the primitive life, human beings would need to have a full control of what they will take as food and their quest for food consisted essentially in hunting. Today, they still do that but more for pleasure rather than for a vital need for food. People’s relationship with food has always been one of manipulation. When people eat food they are not aware that this food has undergone different stages through which it has been the subject of human manipulation. Before being served to people in their everyday meals, food has gone though different stages and has interacted with different ingredients to turn into a particular meal specific to one culture and eaten at particular moments. People are not aware when they eat a given food that they have a full control of what they are eating. They can choose the quantity, the time when and the place where to eat. This subconscious knowledge is also used spontaneously to frame other types of dominance relationships. The details about the dominance characterising people’s relationship with food arises in the analysis of metaphorical conceptualizations of dominance in terms of eating:
(a) eat someone alive
(b) eating crow
(c) eat out of someone’s hand
(e) eating one’s hat
(f) eat dirt
(g) eat someone’s dust
(h) eat humble pie
(I) eating one’s heart
The English metaphorical eating scenario selects particular inedible objects and one unique human organ. The English culture does not go too far in choosing disparate food types. The English language is similar to its French and TA counterparts in framing dominance in terms of eating particular objects. The expression ‘to eat someone alive’ (7a) is used to frame full dominance of someone over the other. This expression is governed by the conceptual metaphor DOMINANCE IS EATING. The culture selects each time the dominated element to differently furnish the eating scenario. The eating experience serves also to frame the emotions of bitter loss and humiliation (7 a, 7c, 7e). The eating experience is imaginatively altered to allow for eating inedible and sometimes horrible objects (7b, 7f, 7g). Expressions like ‘eat crow, eat someone’s dust and eat dirt’ are used to serve the senses associated with undergoing a humiliating situation. The culture selects the eaten element to frame negative emotions of humiliation. The metaphorical connection is built on the act of eating. Although eating is originally a pleasurable experience that results first in enjoyment and then in satisfaction, the conceptualization of a negative emotion renders it a negative experience through intervening with the food itself. Instead of eating the tasty delicious food, people transfer their experience of eating the inedible horrible food to frame feeling of humiliation. Human are generally resistant to failure and defeat. Similarly people are generally resistant to horrible tastes. Though the degree of deliciousness remains a subject to cultural variation, human beings have some common tastes that are pleasurable all over the world and vice versa. The physical experience of suffering the eating an unpleasant inedible thing is projected to the psychological experiences of unwillingly accepting dominance and humiliation. These expressions are seen to be governed by the conceptual metaphor EMOTION IS FOOD with its subpart SUFFERING IS EATING THE INEDIBLE.
The foregoing analysis has demonstrated three main peculiarities about the eating experience as it is used metaphorically across three different languages/cultures. First, the high productivity of the EATING schemas was highlighted. Second, the eating scenarios used to frame emotions vary according to the language. Third, the elements involved in the eating situation play interchangeable roles which make these situations vary gradually from the purely realistic to the hyperbolically imaginative and then will be created for the sake of the metaphorical conceptualization.
The EATING schema involves the presence of an eater and a food for the eating operation to take place. This recurrent scenario describing the trip of food from the OUTSIDE to the INSIDE of the human body was exploited productively to frame several emotions and psychological experiences. The eating scenario was altered each time through varying the food, its nature and also the eating setting. Emotions are framed in terms of eating the edible and the inedible, the human organ, the whole body etc. This variation has allowed for the productivity to be remarkably present across the three languages/cultures though with different degrees.
The various scenarios used metaphorically to frame different psychological experiences vary also at the level of the languages themselves. Each language selects its own scenario through varying the inedible object to be eaten, the human organ to be eaten and/or the eating setting. These variations are defined by the socio-cultural context in which these expressions are understood. The speakers of the language in question seem to have developed a shared knowledge around theses expressions which make them particular to the culture in question.
The eating scenarios described in the expressions discussed so far exhibit a high productivity thanks to the interchangeable roles played by the elements involved in the eating experiences as they are described in the metaphorical expression. What makes these expressions metaphoric serving to conceptualize abstract domain is the imaginative situations of the eating experience. The different eating experiences described in the metaphorical expressions analysed in the three languages assign different roles to the different elements involved in the eating experiences. This variation can be summed up in table 5.
These examples show that the embodied experience of eating serves to conceptualize different concepts. The understanding of these different terms is mediated by the culture. Throughout these examples we notice that the three cultures/languages agree in framing emotions metaphorically through the eating experience but each culture selects its own ‘meal’. While eating the heart expresses a feeling of sufferance in TA and English, the French culture does not select this organ for eating. The interaction between the embodied action of eating and the cultural context accounts for this difference. Eating the heart was filtered by the French culture and did not appear to the surface in the form of a linguistic metaphor to frame sufferance. Alternatively, the French cultural filter has allowed other scenarios to get through and appear to the surface in the form of a metaphorical scenario where another organ is eaten but not the heart.
These different scenarios are exploited across the three languages to frame abstract experiences. The cultural variation is traced back to the cultural particularities which allow for metaphorical scenarios to appear and at the same time constrain others. On the other hand, these scenarios will act as a template that can be filled each time by a given culture or allow for new metaphorical conceptualizations to be created.

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Food for human traits

This section will focus on the conceptualizations of human traits in terms of food types. The food types are variously exploited to capture human characteristics. Across the three languages human beings are likened to food types, which are used in panoply of situations.
The food types are used in their natural state, while being prepared for cooking, while being cooked, throughout the different stages of cooking and even after being cooked and served for eaters. Food types’ tastes are pervasively exploited throughout the three languages to frame human traits. We will first analyse food for human traits in TA. Second, we will present the different food types serving to conceptualize human characteristics in French. Third we will discover the different conceptualizations of human beings in terms of food in English. Finally we will end with a summary and some concluding remarks.

Food for Human traits in TA

It seems that TA speakers’ experience with food is so entrenched in their cognition, which provides a tacit knowledge serving to capture abstract and concrete human traits. The variety of food types whether in their raw nature, after being cooked, being sieved and being ground, etc. are used to frame psychological and also physical human traits. The mapping selects the distinct feature of the food in question and maps it on the human being. These expressions can be subsumed under A HUMAN BEING IS FOOD metaphor. The linguistic manifestations of this metaphor exhibit a wide variety and are hardly seen to be subsumed under one single conceptual metaphor. The different metaphors exhibit a considerable variety of food types. The metaphorical scenarios are so developed and sometimes complex through focusing each time on different aspects, sometimes unique and sometimes multiple, of the food type used in the mapping. The complexities of the different metaphorical expressions invite different level of analysis based on the sources from which we recruit our metaphors whether they were conceptual, bodily or socio-cultural. The way to redeem to this theoretical concern will be dealt with in later parts of the study. The seemingly messy nature of metaphor is not a problem in itself. The logic of metaphor creation may account for this methodological concern. In this level of analysis we will focus on the different target domains sorted out of the food types used to capture human traits along with the metaphorical procedures underlying their understanding by TA speakers.
The conceptualisation of human traits in terms of food types characterises much of the understanding of food metaphors in TA. It appears that people’s experiences and familiarity with food provides them with a potential background knowledge that will be mapped to frame less delineated domains. People qualify the food they eat essentially on the basis of deliciousness before they move to details such shape, colour, smell etc. This experiential is abundantly exploited in TA to frame human traits.
The selected food type The corresponding meaning
– Honey Kindness and social acceptability
– onion rudeness and social rejection
– porridge naivety
– raw food lack of experience
– half-cooked food lack of experience
– Flesh / meat sexy woman
– Fish beautiful attractive woman
– bitter almond wickedness
– spicy food hard work
– vegetables / tomatoes / butter exhaustion
– stuffed tripe nervousness
– fenugreek weakness and vulnerability
– milk purity and tolerance
It appears that the TA language variously exhibits the food types in almost all their states. People’s contact with food types provides a background knowledge that will serve to map less delineated domains. Human traits illustrate some of these mapped domains that are heterogeneously joined and captured through the food-related perception. The TA culture selects panoply of food types and maps them on human beings to frame different psychological and sometimes physical characteristics. This type of connection is accounted for a sort of metaphors ‘which appear to be based on shared qualities which are not perceptual: when we refer to a person as some type of animal based on a personality trait, for example (e.g., as a ‘‘pig,’’‘‘snake,’’ or the more classical, not to mention complimentary, ‘‘lion’’), we are apparently invoking a commonality which we believe unites the person and the animal (or some stereotype of the animal).’ (Grady, 2007: 193)Mapping a human being in terms of a food type belongs to a set of mappings that ‘are based on conceptual relationships which can be reversed and still be meaningful’ (Grady, 2007: 193). In TA, we frame physical obesity in terms of a vegetable; an obese person is called škara baTaTa a sack of potatoes and we frame abundance of a given fruit or vegetables in terms of craziness TmaTim mahbul-a (crazy tomatoes; the land produced abundant tomatoes).

Table of contents :

2.1 Metaphor: Movement and improvement
2.1.1 The move from the rhetoric to the cognitive
2.1.2 Literal vs Figurative language
2.1.3 The Conceptual Metaphor Theory
2.1.4 Aspects of metaphor
2.1.5 Elements of the conceptual system
2.1.6 Cognitive styles
2.1.7 Metaphor and the body
2.1.8 Conceptual Blending
2.2 Metaphor and culture
2.2.1 On the definition of culture
2.2.2 Culture and thought
2.3 Cognitive-contrastive studies
2.4 Analytic tools and methodological concerns:
2.4.1 The introspection method
2.4.2 Metaphor identification: The MIPVU
2.4.3 Metaphorical conceptualizations and psychological experiments
2.4.4 Metaphor creation and unidirectionality of the mapping
2.5 Metaphor ubiquity and a possible classification
2.5.1Basic vs. Generic-level Metaphors
2.5.2 Universal Vs culture-specific metaphors
2.5.3 The Great Chain Metaphor
2.6 Conclusion
3.1 The food domain under cognitive investigation
3.1.1 Abundance of the food domain
3.1.2. Research questions
3.1.3 Hypotheses
3.2 Methodology
3.3 Metaphor Identification and analysis
3.3.1 Description of the corpus
3.3.2 The interaction between body and culture in metaphor understanding
3.4 Analytical tools
3.4.1 The Cross-domain mapping
3.4.2 The Great Chain Metaphor Theory
3.4.3 The cross-cultural model of metaphor variation
3.4.4 The decompositional account
3.5 Limitations
3.6 Conclusion
4.1 Food metaphors analysis
4.1.1 The eating experience in TA
4.1.2 The eating experience in French
4.1.3 The eating experience in English
4.1.4 Conclusion
4.2 Food for human traits
4.2.1 Food for Human traits in TA
4.2.2 Food for human traits in French
4.2.3 Food for human traits in English
4.2.4 Conclusion
4.3 Bread metaphors
4.3.1 Bread in Tunisian Arabic
4.3.2 Bread in English
4.3.3 Bread in French
4.3.4 Conclusion
4.4 People’s experiences with food


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