A Cross-Linguistic, Cross-Cultural Analysis of Metaphors

Topics: Sign language, Deaf culture, Language Pages: 24 (6474 words) Published: September 17, 2011
A Crosslinguistic, Cross-cultural Analysis of Metaphors in Two Italian Sign Language (LIS) Registers Russo, Tommaso, 1948Sign Language Studies, Volume 5, Number 3, Spring 2005, pp. 333-359 (Article) Published by Gallaudet University Press DOI: 10.1353/sls.2005.0009

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A Crosslinguistic, Crosscultural Analysis of Metaphors in Two Italian Sign Language (LIS) Registers A          of metaphors is that they make it possible to talk about a particular topic with terms usually related to a very different subject. For example, if someone says, ‘‘Jerry’s mental wheels are oiled,’’ we understand that the person is talking about the mind of someone in terms that are usually used for talking about machines.1 Researchers in the contemporary theory of metaphor (Lakoff and Johnson ; Fauconnier and Turner ) explain this phenomenon as the result of a cross-domain mapping between two different conceptual domains. To process the metaphor ‘‘Jerry’s mental wheels are oiled,’’ we need an understanding of some of the key properties of the mind’s domain (the target of the metaphor) that our experience of the machine’s domain (the source of the metaphor) can provide. In recent theoretical accounts of metaphors (Ortony ; Keysar and Glucksberg ; Turner and Fauconnier ), much effort has been devoted to determining which constraints limit and govern metaphorical cross-domain mappings (i.e., not every domain can be mapped onto every other, and some cross-domain mappings are perceived as meaningless). Tommaso Russo is currently a research fellow in Philosophy of Language and Sign Language Linguistics at the University of Calabria at Cosenza.

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Context, cultural presuppositions, and universal human experiences play an important role in determining which domains can be mapped onto which others. According to Lakoff and Johnson (), metaphors are rooted in prelinguistic bodily experiences that lead children who are acquiring language to a conflation of different semantic and cognitive domains. From this point of view, different cultures construct different metaphors that stem from these same experiences. I argue that we can construe signed language metaphors as products of prelinguistic experiences that are probably universal for deaf people but do not completely overlap with those experienced by speakers of vocal languages. In addition, signed language metaphors can also be characterized as intrinsically related to aspects of the particular linguistic and cultural dimensions to which they belong in a particular Deaf community. I suggest that the shared cultural knowledge of Italian deaf signers plays a relevant role in the making and understanding of metaphoric cross-domain mappings in Italian Sign Language (LIS). Another important topic is the role that the iconic features of signs may play in metaphor production. In recent discussions of signed language metaphors, much attention has been devoted to the interplay of iconicity and metaphors (Brennan ; Russo ; Wilcox ; Taub ). Although iconic and metaphorical phenomena in signed languages must be given separate theoretical accounts, the interplay of iconicity and metaphors in signed language discourse has a key role in metaphor creation and understanding.

Iconicity and Metaphor in Signed Languages
Iconicity refers to a regular mapping of some of the formal features of the meaning of a sign (or of a sublexical component) onto some of the formal features of the expression of a sign (or sublexical component). This correspondence is generally inherent in the language system but can also be productively established in a set of utterances. It is possible to...

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