Initiating a Diachronic Line of Investigation: Metaphorical Precedents and Emblems.
Ralph Bisschops
Vrije Universiteit Brussel,

Cognitive Theory of Metaphor is increasingly focused on the issue of how figurative language is processed by the human brain. For literary scholars and exegetes of religious texts this line of questioning only partly responds to their needs and experiences. The meaning of some metaphors/metonymies as well as the mapping process that their proper understanding requires can only be investigated through the retrieval of traditional notions. I would like to call them emblematic. Francesca Rigotti (1994), following a diachronic line of research, explored family metaphors in political discourse. She concluded that brotherhood or the father-children relation always denote a consensus while, in reality, families often are the theatre of dissensus. In my own investigations (Bisschops 1994, 2003 and 2018) I noticed many similar discrepancies.
An obvious case of emblematic notions is constituted by animal metaphors such as MAN IS A WOLF, THE DOORKEEPER IS A GORILLA, THE SNAKE IS A SEDUCTRESS (recently used by Donald Trump), JEWS or MUSLIMS ARE RATS (used by the Nazi’s and the Alt-right respectively). Nearly all animal metaphors can be traced back to ancient myths, tales or fables. The use of animals as cognitive source domains in metaphorical sentences is restricted. In our metaphorical language they stand for features or cues which are pre-established by tradition. Emblems precede their use as metaphorical source domains.
Metaphors with an emblematic background invite us to introduce a diachronic line of investigation. Linguists are devoted to synchronicity and to the idea that meaning is generated by online, representational processes. Lots of source notions, however, are rooted in a long cultural history of codification. Sometimes they are easy to access; in other cases their disclosure demands long historical and hermeneutical investigations, such as in the analysis of poetic or religious documents. They correspond to a typology which distinguishes them from Idealised Cognitive Models, and they cannot be explained exhaustively by referring to the conceptual system of one’s culture, to human knowledge or to one’s experiences.
I have investigated metaphorical/metonymical equations such as LIFE IS A MISPRINT IN A COMMUNIQUÉ (Malcolm Lowry), THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL IS GOD’S BRIDE (Ezekiel, Hosea), TRUE CIRCUMCISION IS THAT OF THE HEART (Paul of Tarsus, Justin Martyr). In all of these cases, the metaphorical/emblematic precedent is an important clue to the full understanding of these metaphors. In addition they signal the sometimes hidden intellectual or spiritual tradition to which the respective authors adhere.
Methodology: Case studies are the only way to buttress the thesis about metaphorical precedents. In order to make sure that a given emblem really inspired a metaphor under investigation, textual passages which corroborate such reading should be adduced.
Conclusion: We might single out a category of metaphors which elude cognitive linguistic analysis in that (1) the source is not (or weakly) grounded in experience, (2) they tend to create a one-way vision, rather than being a tool for understanding the target, (3) being value-laden they perform an evaluation of the target.
Keywords: diachrony, emblem, family-metaphors, animal-metaphors, exegesis, interpretation, experiential grounding, stereotypes, evaluation


Abdulrahman, A. 2018. Tiermetaphorik in unterschiedlichen Diskurstraditionen. Duisburger Arbeiten zur Sprach- und Kulturwissenschaft, vol. 121. Berlin: 2018.
Bisschops, R. 2018. Metaphor in Religious Transformation: ‘Circumcision of the Heart’ in Paul of Tarsus. In P. Chilton, M. Kopytowska (Eds.), Religion, Language and the Human Mind (294−329). New York: Oxford University Press.
Bisschops, R. 1994. Die Metapher als Wertsetzung – Novalis, Ezechiel, Beckett. Duisburger Arbeiten zur Sprach- und Kulturwissenschaft, vol. 23. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.
Rigotti, F. 1994. Die Macht und ihre Metaphern: Über die sprachlichen Bilder der Politik. Frankfurt am Main: Campus Verlag.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSpanish Cognitive Linguistics Association (AELCO)
Subtitle of host publication11th International Conference of the Spanish Cognitive Linguistics Association (AELCO), 17th-19th October 2018
EditorsAntonio Barcelona-Sànchez
Place of PublicationCordoba
PublisherUniversidad Nacional de Córdoba
Number of pages3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019
EventXI Congreso Internacional de la Asociación Española de Lingüística Cognitiva (AELCO), 17-19 de octubre de 2018. - University of Cordoba, Cordoba, Spain
Duration: 17 Oct 201819 Apr 2019


ConferenceXI Congreso Internacional de la Asociación Española de Lingüística Cognitiva (AELCO), 17-19 de octubre de 2018.
Internet address

    Research areas

  • Metaphor, diachrony, emblem, emblematics, Malcolm Lowry, animal metaphors, precedential metaphors, Cognitive Linguistics

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