Publication details [#2846]

Brdar, Mario. 2007. Metonymy in Grammar: Towards Motivating Extensions of Grammatical Categories and Constructions. Osijek. viii, 220 pp.
Publication type
Book – monograph
Publication language


It has often been claimed on the basis of discussions of referential or nominal metonymies that, unlike metaphor, metonymy has hardly any impact on grammar. The purpose of the present volume has been twofold. On the one hand, I have attempted to offer evidence against the above tacit assumption, i.e. to deliver further evidence of the involvement of metonymy in an intricate network of grammatical subsystems, not only in the nominal system (which means that other word classes can be the locus of metonymic mappings, too). The data adduced in the volume support the view expressed in Barcelona (2002) that metonymy is wide-spread, which is true in grammar, too. Not only lexical meaning is affected, but also grammatical one, i.e. the value of lexemes for certain grammatical categories is affected in the course of metonymic mappings. I have shown, for example, that an inherently mass, non-count noun is recategorized as a count one due to metonymy, it is not only that the relationships between nouns in the number system change— this often goes hand in hand with the change of the range of determiners that the noun or nouns in question will accept. Similarly, when a proper noun is recategorized as a common one due to a chain of metonymies and metaphors, it not only takes determiners it is otherwise not found with, but it also often becomes perfectly countable and can now be used in the plural. All such, more or less regular, alternations in the grammatical behaviour of such sets of nouns can then considered to be manifestations of grammatical polysemy. Because most recent cognitive linguistic research on metonymy has been concerned with uncovering inferential processes underlying it as well as with stressing its conceptual nature and thus refuting the classical view stipulating that it is just a matter of transfer of lexical meaning, the focus has always been mainly on its referential nature, many of its other aspects receiving hardly any attention. Among these overlooked aspects of metonymy, there are not only numerous significant grammatical phenomena but also pragmatic ones, often interwoven with each other and with metonymy’s lexical aspects. A second, more specific, objective has been to demonstrate the interaction of conceptual metonymy with metaphor and other cognitive operations in a number of ways in shaping the grammatical systems. The results of the case studies presented in the three central chapters of the volume (6-8) seem to indicate that metonymy often precedes metaphor. It is also clear from my data metonymy is different from metaphor in that it affects whole grammatical categories or constructions (or constructions types) rather than just individual items. What is more, I have demonstrated that metonymy can work in chains and tiers, i.e. that grammatical phenomena may be motivated by a series of metonymic mappings, occasionally interspersed with other cognitive processes. If we recognize, on the basis of evidence adduced in the present volume, that metonymy has an important regulating or motivating role in grammar, we might think that the relation between metonymy and grammar is a case of one-way traffic because the former has been shown to trigger certain phenomena in grammar in the sense of making them possible or sometimes even necessary, grammar being infinitely plastic and therefore easily formed by metonymic processes. This is, however, a grossly simplified way of looking at things. While I have indeed shown here that metonymy is a far more ubiquitous and pervasive cognitive process than is generally thought, and that it permeates not only the lexicon, but the grammatical system as well, it would be worthwhile in future research to go the opposite direction and probe the limits of metonymy in grammar. In other words, we should also try to establish whether grammatical factors play a role in constraining the application of various types of metonymy. (Mario Brdar)