Publication details [#3144]

Caballero, Rosario. 2007. Review of 'Metaphor in Culture: Universality and Variation' by Zoltán Kövecses. Metaphor and Symbol 22 (1) : 109–118.


From its very outset, the cognitive theory of metaphor has rested on the basic premise that metaphor and culture are intimately related, some authors stressing the direct link between culture and metaphor (Maalej, 2004) and others portraying their relationship as indirect (Deignan, 2003). However, the idea is far from new. Metaphor and related figurative phenomena have long ago been adopted as useful concepts for exploring the construction of cultural identities and cross-cultural differences by anthropologists. An important difference between their approach and research within cognitive linguistics is that whereas the latter has favored the study of how metaphor structures thought and language, the former's broader view of culture has resulted in a concomitantly increased interest in how metaphor shapes nonverbal cultural manifestations as well-social or work organizational units, private and public behavior, ceremonies and rites, gestures and body language, humor, material artifacts, and so forth. (See Quinn 1991, arguing that metaphor reflects cultural models rather than shaping them). Her discussion is also addressed in Kövecses' book, pp. 204 ff.) Another difference is the core assumption in cognitive linguistics that certain basic or primary metaphors are universal across cultures given the embodied nature of human cognition, whereas anthropologists stress cross-cultural differences and, hence, the idiosyncrasy of the metaphors mediating or resulting from them. All in all, however, one of the strong points of the cognitive linguistics approach is, precisely, that it has shown the systematicity of structural metaphors-whether these result from culture, cognition or a mixture of them-as reflected in human artifacts. In short, although Kövecses's book is promising in that it does address the issues that need to be explored to understand the dialectic between metaphor and culture, it does not meet the expectations raised in the first chapter. In my view, adjusting the main tenets in the cognitive theory of metaphor so that it can account for cross-cultural variation in metaphor without demolishing the basic assumption of its embodied (and, hence, universal) nature would require the proposal of more groundbreaking-albeit controversial-alternatives to prevailing views as well as particular emphasis and research into nonlinguistic realizations of metaphor. Moreover, if linguistic metaphor is to be used to illustrate cultural differences, a fuller account of how it appears in contexts larger than isolated sentences is needed in the first place. The book does, nevertheless, point to some unexplored and largely ignored questions in cognitive approaches to metaphor and, in this sense, although it does not live up to the expectations raised in its title, it provides food for thought for researchinto the complexities of the metaphor-culture relationship. (Rosario Caballero)