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The nature of metonymy

Our present-day discussion of metonymy reveals both similarities as well as

differences in the treatment of the notion in question. To start with similarities,

first and foremost the linguists’ interest has ceased to be restricted to literary

language. At present a great deal of research is conducted with regard to everyday

discourse, where – in fact – metonymy refers to a wide range of language

phenomena. Secondly, metonymy is no longer viewed solely as a figure of

speech and thus a characteristic of language in terms of relations among words

alone. Instead, the grounding of metonymy in the human conceptual system, i.e.

thought processes, is universally stressed. This prominent feature of the

mechanism of metonymy was first stated directly by Lakoff and Johnson

(1980:39), considered pioneers of the novel approach, who underlined that

metonymic concepts structure language, thoughts, attitudes and actions, and are

grounded in our experience. What follows; at present metonymy is considered a

conceptual operation rather than a mere ‘stand for’ substitution relationship. As

a result, contiguity, a crucial notion in dealing with metonymy, is perceived in

mental rather than in physical terms, which is occasionally stressed by the term

conceptual contiguity (e.g. Dirven 1993).

In accordance with the standard definition within the framework of

cognitivism, as advocated by, among others, Lakoff and Turner (1989),

metonymy is perceived as […] a mapping [conceptual projection] with a

primarily referential purpose, in which the source and target entities are

conceptual entities in the same domain (Strazny 2005:681). The unity of

domain (ICM, frame) seems to be another similarity in the treatment of

metonymy by individual linguists. This feature is supposed to distinguish

metonymy from metaphor, where the defining property is concept mapping

between two domains. Nevertheless, despite the apparently common consent

to the fact that metonymic processes operate within one conceptual construct,

some differences, resulting mainly from the ambiguous status of the notion of

domain itself, can be observed. Thus, according to Croft (1993:348),

metonymic mapping does not necessarily occur within a single domain, but

may also take place in a single domain matrix, with the domain matrix

understood as a combination of domains presupposed by a single concept.

This suggestion is justified by the fact that a concept may simultaneously

presuppose several different dimensions, which in turn can be interpreted as

different domains forming a domain matrix. Dirven (1993:9) distinguishes

three types of metonymies with one of them, the inclusive syntagm, operating

within two different domains or two different aspects of a domain. Since the

involvement of two domains seems to blur the distinction between metonymy

and metaphor, Dirven (1993:14) clarifies that in metonymy the two domains

remain intact, whereas in metaphor the source domain is totally suppressed.

However, as the author aptly notes, the division of extralinguistic reality is not

objective but rather it depends on the language user’s cultural background,

which in turn determines the existence of one or more domains for a given

concept. Thus, the question of a number of domains is basically a matter of

perspectivisation,1 and in metonymy, given experiential areas are merely

perspectivised as one domain or more domains. Consequently, the conceptual

contiguity between two elements, forming the base of metonymic relations,

must be perceived as constituted by a conceptual act rather than the objective

reality. Within the frame semantics, where metonymy is defined as framebased

figure/ground effect with respect to an invariant meaning (Koch

2004:8), contiguity is considered to hold on two levels, namely between

elements of a frame, as well as between one element and the frame as a whole.

Due to the fact that metonymy does not actually seem to consist of

systematic mappings, some linguists refrain from treating it as a mapping

process. Instead, a ‘reference point’ approach is suggested, as in the following


Metonymy is a cognitive process in which one conceptual entity, the vehicle, provides mental

access to another conceptual entity, the target, within the same idealized cognitive model (Radden

and Kövecses 2005).

Thus, for example, in the sentence She’s just a pretty face, the element pretty

face functions as the vehicle which by means of mental activation allows to

access the ‘person’ as the target (Radden and Kövecses, 2005). The definition

quoted above relies on the ‘access node’ model of meaning proposed by

Langacker (1987), in which a word form serves as a point of access to a network

of open-ended relations, i.e. cognitive routines, constituting its meaning.

Despite the popularity of the reference-point approach (e.g. Lakoff 1987,

Langacker 1993, Panther and Radden 1999, or Dirven and Pörings 2002), the

above model draws criticism as well. According to Panther and Thornburg

(2005:43), who rely on both the cognitivist and relevance theories in their model

of metonymy, the reference-point approach seems too unrestrained, classifying

data as metonymic that cannot be treated as prototypical cases of metonymy. The

authors illustrate their claim with the following pair of sentences:

a) The trumpet put me in a bad mood.

b) The loss of my wallet put me in a bad mood.

Thus, although in b) the loss of my wallet seems to provide access to the

concept of NON-POSSESSION (of the wallet), it is a conceptually necessary and

thus a non-metonymic relationship. By contrast, the trumpet does not necessarily

entail THE SOUND OF THE TRUMPET, which makes it a metonymic

relationship. Consequently, Panther and Thornburg (2005:50) distinguish two

essential and – in their view – defining properties of metonymy, namely

1 For a slightly different understanding of the notion of perspectivisation see Kleparski


contingence and the degree of conceptual prominence of the target meaning.

Contingence is defined as a conceptually non-necessary relation between

concepts, i.e. relation that is in principle defeasible (see Panther and Thornburg

2005:46). The latter property, that is conceptual prominence, leads to a

conclusion that the traditional ‘stand for’ metonymic relation, where the target

meaning is maximally prominent, is a borderline case of metonymy rather than a

prototype. The basic metonymic relation, as viewed by Panther and Thornburg

(2005), differs slightly from the definition coined by Radden and Kövecses

(2005), and can be presented in form of the following Figure 1:

Figure 1. The basic metonymic relation (Panther and Thornburg 2005:42)

Unlike Radden and Kövecses (2005), Panther and Thornburg (2005) draw a

line of distinction between the vehicle, as a linguistic form, and source meaning

as the part of meaning inherent in the vehicle triggering the particular

metonymic process. What is more, the diagram shows that in the concept

formation the source meaning is not wiped out by the target meaning. Thus,

although the target meaning is more prominent, the source meaning must be

salient enough to enable its activation. In a similar way, Dirven (1993:21)

observes that in metonymy two elements keep their existence and form a

contiguous system.

In modern literature metonymy is also defined as a variety of echoic use

(Papafragou 1996, and website). Within the framework of the relevance theory,

the echoic use is understood as a kind of self-referring, interpretative linguistic

expression falling outside its normal descriptive denotation. In Papafragou’s

(1996) view, ad hoc metonymic concepts are formed within the complex system

of relations found in a frame. Thus, they rely on the set of attributes and values

characterising a particular expression, and capture the multitude of assumptions

humans possess (cf. Kleparski 1997). The echoic expression produces the novel

concept through some particularly accessible value. According to Papafragou

(1996:176), metonymy must be considered a novel conceptualisation of an

external entity rather than a mapping between two concepts. Consequently, in

metonymy the descriptive content of the expression is not necessarily attributed

or attributable to a previous source.

To explain the gist of the metonymic process from the cognitivistic

perspective, Croft (1993:348) speaks of an effect called domain highlighting, i.e.

making primary a domain that is secondary in the literal meaning.2 This

occurrence of this process is facilitated due to the salience of some elements

present within the domain matrix for a given concept, even if they are peripheral

to the concept’s literal meaning. For example, the works of Proust are definitely

external to the concept PROUST in comparison to the fact that he was a person.

Nevertheless, since Proust as a person gained fame due to his works, the domain

matrix must include the CREATIVE ACTIVITY domain, where the WORKS BY

PROUST are salient enough to initiate a metonymic shift. As Croft (1993:349)

remarks, domain highlighting seems to be a necessary but not sufficient

condition for metonymy.

Another attempt to specify the process of meaning shift by means of

metonymic extension was, for example, made by Taylor (1990) and Kleparski

(1997), who treat metonymic meaning changes as special cases of

perspectivisation within conceptual domains (henceforth: CDs). As viewed by

the latter author, the notion of CD entails the existence of attributive paths

against which attributive values, forming an open set, are specified (cf. Seto’s

notion of exploiting connections, 1999). The lexical categories are characterised

relative to different locations within the attributive paths of CDs.

Perspectivisation is understood as a process by means of which some attributive

values, whether overtly present or not, are foregrounded whereas others become

backgrounded or even disappear completely.

Types of metonymic relations

The problem of classification of metonymic relations has attracted the

interest of a number of students of language. For the purpose of brevity, only the

general principles underlying selected classifications, rather than their details,

can be included here.

In accordance with the cognitivist approach to the mechanism of metonymy,

the crucial issue in the presentation of classificatory schemes is first of all the

identification and description of conceptual structures that can result in

conventional metonymic relations. A typology of metonymy-producing

relationships was, among others, worked out by Radden and Kövesces (1998,

2005), who primarily base their presentation on the distinction between whole

2 The notion of highlighting understood in a similar way by other authors, such as, for

example, Kleparski (1997), Kiełtyka (2005) and Kiełtyka (in preparation).

and parts. The approach results from the assumption that human knowledge

about the world is organised by structured ICMs, which are perceived by people

as wholes with parts. Thus, the two basic conceptual configurations

distinguished are: 1) Whole ICM and its part(s); 2) Parts of an ICM. Within the

first configuration the following ICMs are listed as being capable of giving rise

to metonymy producing relationships:

Thing-and-Part ICM,

Scale ICM,

Constitution ICM,

Event ICM,

Category-and-Member ICM,

Category-and-Property ICM,

Reduction ICM.

Metonymies relying on these ICMs apply typically to things. In the second

configuration, in case of which the resulting metonymies normally apply to

entities within an event, metonymy-producing relationships occur in the

following ICMs:

Action ICM,

Perception ICM,

Causation ICM,

Production ICM,

Control ICM,

Possession ICM,

Containment ICM,

Location ICMs,

Sign and Reference ICMs,

Date: 2015-02-16; view: 1496

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