Metaphor as Translation (or the Cherry on the Cake for Human Cognition)

Marcio Rocha

Metaphor, literally know as a figure of speech, uses images, stories or tangible things to represent less tangible things or some intangible quality or idea and can be traced back to the time of Aristotle. Metaphor has been seen within the Western scientific tradition as a purely linguistic construction and more than an ornamental resource of language for film, music and poetry, cognitive linguists, thereby highlighting the centrality of Metaphor to human thought and cognition, have revisited the notion of Metaphor.

Lakoff’s conceptual metaphor was expressed in his book with Mark Johnson entitled Metaphors We Live By 1980 and suggested that to define our representational system and understand the natural world, “our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of how we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature” (p. 3). The essential thrust of Lakoff’s work has been the argument that metaphors are primarily a conceptual construction, and indeed are central to the development of human thought.

Metaphor is frequently used in the design of graphical (user) interfaces as well as in the field of graphic design. The idea that metaphors can ‘translate’ realities goes against some of the more traditional views of Metaphor, and maybe it is reasonable enough to assume that words alone cannot really translate or change reality. However, changes in our conceptual system can operate changes in what is real for an individual and affect how the world is perceived acting upon perceptions.

More than a literal translation, decoding or interpretation of abstract concepts, this seminar will present that this notion suggests that Metaphor is not merely stylistic, but cognitively important as well, structuring our conceptual system and the kinds of everyday activities we perform. This statement suggests somehow that language (and Metaphor) is embodied, embedded and external, and that the mind is not only contained in the head. The causally active physical vehicles of content and of cognitive processes could be spread across the biological organism and the world.

Other aspects of Metaphor, such as translation, will be used to illustrate and elucidate some aspects of the concept, navigating for other seas, some of which are related to the nature of the ongoing research, such as computational aspects, models, interfaces and visual metaphors.

Is Metaphor the ‘cherry on the cake’ of language and human cognition? We will see.


Reading for seminar:

Andy Clark (1998).  ‘Where Brain, Body and World Collide’ – Daedalus : Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (Special Issue on The Brain) Vol 127: no 2: Spring 1998 (p. 257-280).

Memento, (2000). Film. Directed by Christopher Nolan. USA: Republic Pictures.