The Alfred and Genevieve Gorski Technology Fund in the Center for Language Acquisition in the College of the Liberal Arts was established with an estate gift from the late Mr. and Mrs. Gorski. Genevieve graduated from Penn State in 1946 with an arts and letters degree and shared a love of language study which she and her husband believed was essential to break down barriers of race and culture.
Speaker: Jeannette Littlemore
Date of Talk: February 18, 2022
Time: 2:30- 4:00 p.m.
Title: Metaphor as a lens through which to examine deep, personal, emotional experiences
Language is the most sophisticated tool humans have developed to communicate emotional experiences. However, due to their highly personal, idiosyncratic nature, such experiences can often be difficult to put into words. The dimensional aspects of emotional experiences, i.e., those involving valence, dominance and arousal can be expressed through literal language. However, once we go beyond these dimensional accounts and try to describe the subjective felt experiences of emotions it is necessary to employ metaphor. Metaphors provide information about the rich detail of human emotional experience in a way that literal language does not (Semino et al., 2017). Metaphorical skill and imagination are therefore important in communicating the nature of unshared experience and creating rapport (Reisfield & Wilson, 2004). For this reason, when talking about deep, personal emotional experiences that are difficult to describe, people often reach for metaphor, with more personal experiences leading to more creative uses of metaphor (Fainsilber & Ortony, 1987; Williams-Whitney et al., 1992). Possible reasons for this are the fact that metaphors allow us to describe ineffable experiences in more concrete, tangible, and often physical terms, and metaphors are sufficiently flexible to allow us to employ a finite set of linguistic resources to express precisely, an infinite range of experiences (Colston & Gibbs, 2021).
In this talk I present findings from four studies, which involved the analysis of metaphor in order to better understand people’s personal, emotional experiences. These experiences include: pregnancy loss; bereavement; the description of positive and negative workplace experiences; and older adults’ experiences of household isolation during COVID-19. Through these studies I reveal what metaphor analysis can tell us about: embodied grief; agency and identity; relationships with others, including the deceased; attitudes towards time, the extent to which experiences are shared by communities; and the ways in which these experiences change over time. I reflect on the benefits and drawbacks of the methods employed and discuss the ways in which findings from some of these studies have been incorporated into professional development materials that have been designed for those who support the bereaved.
Jeannette Littlemore is Professor of English Language and Applied Linguistics in the Department of English Language and Linguistics at the University of Birmingham, UK. Her research focuses on metaphor and metonymy. She has published several books, including Metaphors in the Mind: Sources of Variation in Embodied Metaphor (Cambridge University Press).
Colston, H. L., & Gibbs, R. W. (2021). Figurative language communicates directly because it precisely demonstrates what we mean. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology/Revue Canadienne de Psychologie Expérimentale.
Fainsilber, L., & Ortony, A. (1987). Metaphorical uses of language in the expression of emotions. Metaphor and Symbol, 2(4), 239–250.
Reisfield, G. M., & Wilson, G. R. (2004). Use of metaphor in the discourse on cancer. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 22(19), 4024–4027.
Semino, E., Demjén, Z., Hardie, A., Payne, S., & Rayson, P. (2017). Metaphor, cancer and the end of life: A corpus-based study. Routledge.
Williams-Whitney, D., Mio, J. S., & Whitney, P. (1992). Metaphor production in creative writing. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 21(6).