Publication details [#5292]

Goschler, Juliana. 2005. Metaphors and conceptualisations of brain and heart in German.


In modern Western cultures and science, the self, the mind, and mental abilities are mainly considered as localized in the brain. Although the heart is often seen as the seat of emotions and character, and therefore also as a place where the "self" of a person is - mirrored in many German phrases as "gutes Herz" (good heart), "kaltes Herz" (cold heart), "etwas auf dem Herzen haben" (to have something on the heart) - the brain is dominant in contemporary discourse. These two perspectives focussing on either the heart of the brain as the centre of personality have long traditions in Western thought, going back to Plato (for whom the brain is central) and Aristotle (who sees the heart as the seat of personality). In science it is common sense that the brain is the organ of personality, thought, memories and emotions. Thus, there has been a shift from "heart" to "brain" as the seat of the self and the soul. Since Descartes, scientists have tried to find the seat of soul and personality inside the brain. At first sight it seems that emotion is still localized in the heart, but a careful exploration shows that now also emotion is - at least in scientific contexts - widely understood as a function of the brain. But there are still lots of (mostly conventionalised) expressions localizing emotions and character inside the heart. This linguistic feature of the German language seems not to fit with popular and scientific knowledge about the human body and its internal organs. This development starts at latest in the 18th century in Germany (Stockinger 1996). Looking at the use of "Herz" (heart) in German, we find a lot of metaphorical expressions, which not necessarily refer to the heart, but mostly to feelings. Talking about the brain is also metaphorical, but here metaphors seem to be a tool to grasp a complicated concept. According to cognitive theories of metaphor, this shows the structure of underlying concepts of the brain and the mind. As an analysis of the brain metaphors in my corpus shows, a lot of them are technical ones. These concepts are often obvious and sometimes intentionally invented as scientific analogies (machine, telephone switchboard, telegraph) - occurring in history very close in time to the invention of new techniques. Most of these metaphors have found their way into everyday German, although they seem to differ depending on time, current scientific theories, and also between languages and cultures. Some other metaphors are, due to their linguistic diversity, much more hidden and mostly used without awareness of metaphor, such as the metaphor of the brain and the mind as a physical space or an intentionally acting person. These metaphors are nevertheless ubiquitous, especially in everyday language, and seem to be much more stable over time, not differing that much in different languages and cultures. (Juliana Goschler)