What Is Metaphor, Really?
The most systematic research to date on the nature of metaphor has been conducted by researchers in a relatively new school of linguistics known as cognitive linguistics. The goal of this field is to develop a theory of human language that is consistent with what is generally known about the mind and brain from disciplines other than linguistics.
Many archaeologists probably have some acquaintance with generative linguistics (e.g., Chomsky 1986; Pinker 1994), which argues that humans possess a relatively autonomous "language organ" and focuses on the ways linguistic symbols are arranged in grammatical sentences.
Cognitive linguistics, in contrast, considers language to be inextricably bound up with broader psychological processes and focuses more on how people actually understand each other in the context of natural discourse (Fauconnier 1997; Lakoff 1991; Lakoff and Johnson 1999; Langacker 1991; Regier 1996).
Since the acquisition and use of language derives from bodily experience, and this experience is filtered through nonlinguistic processes, including perception, imagery, and memory, language should systematically reflect these broader psychological mechanisms. As a result,cognitive linguists study language but gain insight into the deeper workings of an embodied mind.
I suggest that research findings in cognitive linguistics can help archaeologists develop methods through which ancient conceptual metaphors might be deciphered from archaeological evidence. Anthropologists, especially Boas (Aberle 1960), Sapir (1994), and Levi-Strauss (Leach 1970, 1976), have often looked to linguistics for theoretical foundations, but in recent years possible relationships between language and material culture have been questioned by researchers who have documented the inadequacy of "design grammars"in accounting for material-culture variation (Hardin 1983; McCracken 1987).
I suggest that it is the adoption of generative views of language in these studies, and not the connection between language and material culture, that is flawed. The appropriate aspect of language on which theoretical analogies should be built is semantics, not syntax. Cognitive, linguistics focuses on semantics, and I believe a closer look at research in this field can give archaeology the foundation it needs for a more appropriate analogy between language and material culture.
Three basic findings of cognitive linguistics are important for this paper.
First, both language and thought are grounded in mental imagery, or "mental representations that begin as conceptual analogs of immediate, perceptual experience," including vision, touch, taste, smell, hearing, and emotional states
Second, the unique human ability for producing, transferring, and processing meaning occurs through mappings, or structured sets of correspondences between domains of mental imagery (Fauconnier 1997).
Third, although many different mapping mechanisms are known, conceptual metaphor is the most common and important kind (Gibbs 1994; Johnson 1987; Lakoff 1987, 1993; Lakoff and Johnson 1980, 1999; Sweetser 1990).