GEORGE LAKOFF, 2/89
X: Social thought. Conversations with the original personalities who are rethinking the way our society and institutions work. With your host, Michael Phillips.
Love is often understood as a physical force, typically gravitational or electromagnetic. You get things like: "I could feel the electricity between us." "There were sparks." "I was magnetically drawn to her." "They're attracted to each other." So you have this physical force metaphor. There's another one in which love is seen as a patient. You say: "They have a strong, healthy marriage." "They have a sick relationship." "The marriage is dead, it can't be revived." "Their marriage is on the mend." "We're getting back on our feet." "It's on its last legs." "It's a tired affair." Love can be understood as madness. You get things like: "I'm crazy about her." "She drives me out of my mind." "He raves about her." And so on. It can be understood in terms of magic, as in many songs. You have things like "The Old Black Magic," and so on. All right. These are the commonest ways that we have of understanding love, in this culture. And, they're very interesting. In each case the lovers are helpless.
Michael Phillips (MP): Our guest today is George Lakoff, author of Metaphors We Live By and Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things, and professor of linguistics at U.C. Berkeley. I'm your host, Michael Phillips. Welcome to Social Thought, Mr.ÝLakoff. Can we start by tackling the words "romantic love."
GEORGE LAKOFF: That's a good example of a case that people don't realize is metaphorical, but we really understand love very largely through metaphor. I first came across this some years ago, about ten years ago, when I was doing an undergraduate seminar, and the usual notion of metaphor is that metaphor is something that's built into a language and particularly not in normal, everyday language, but in poetic language. It turned out that we discovered in a while in this seminar that this traditional view of metaphor wasn't true and the case was love. When we started doing this, one of the women in this seminar came in on the day we were to discuss metaphor and she was visibly upset, and I asked her some question and she said she couldn't answer, she was too upset, in fact she said she had a metaphorical problem and maybe the seminar could help her. Her boyfriend had just said something that she didn't really comprehend and she wanted some help. And what he had said was, "Our relationship is a dead-end street." She wanted to understand, How can a relationship hit a dead-end street? What does that mean? And it turned out everybody could think about that very clearly. That is, first of all, if a relationship hits a dead-end street, that means that you can't go any further, you have to turn back, or abandon it, or do something else. And that presupposes that you're going somewhere, in this relationship. Well, it turns out that we have lots of expressions for understanding love relationships in terms of journeys. We say, "look how far we've come," "we're at a crossroads," "we're spinning our wheels," "the relationship is foundering," "it's off the track," "it's on the rocks." If you look at these examples you find out that the metaphors are not in the words, it's not in the words "on the rocks" or "spinning your wheels" or something like that. It's in the way you understand love in terms of a journey. And when you sort out the details of this, it's a very particular correspondence between journeys and love. So, the travelers are the lovers, the vehicle is the relationship, and in this metaphor you have trouble getting on your journey. This is a metaphor where travel is difficult. Now that's one metaphorical conception of love, and it has lots of entailments. But we have a lot of other conceptions of love. For example, love is often understood as a physical force, typically gravitational or electromagnetic. You get things like: "I could feel the electricity between us." "There were sparks." "I was magnetically drawn to her." "They're attracted to each other." "Their relationship is charged." "There's a lot of energy in the relationship." "They lost their momentum." So you have this physical force metaphor. There's another one in which love is seen as a patient. You say: "They have a strong, healthy marriage." "They have a sick relationship." "The marriage is dead, it can't be revived." "Their marriage is on the mend." "We're getting back on our feet." "It's on its last legs." "It's a tired affair." So, love can be understood as a patient, subject to illness. Love can be understood as madness. You get things like: "I'm crazy about her." "She drives me out of my mind." "He raves about her." And so on. It can be understood in terms of magic, as in many songs. You have things like: "He cast a spell over me," "I was entranced, charmed, bewitched," and all those cases, "The Old Black Magic," and so on. All right. These are the commonest ways that we have of understanding love, in this culture. And, they're very interesting. In each case, the lovers are helpless. That is, take the love-is-a-journey case. The vehicle is out of control, it's spinning its wheels, on the rocks, it's at a dead-end street. Or, on the physical force, the lovers are, a lover is attracted, ya know, subject to some external force. If you look at love as a patient, how do we understand illness? It's something that comes from the outside and gets you. What about madness? That's the ultimate lack of control. Magic, you have a sort of hypnotist who is controlling you from the outside, the other lover. In general, that's the way we conceptualize love in this culture, very much in terms of a kind of lack of control. Now, what's particularly interesting about the language here is that the language is a reflection of the conceptual structure. That is, you have many, many expressions for each of these metaphors, and a metaphor isn't just in language, it's a way of understanding one concept in terms of another concept in another conceptual domain, for example, understand love in terms of the domain of journeys.
MP: Mm hmm. I want to go with that. The first book that you published, or the first widely circulated book, was Metaphors We Live By. Your more recent book is Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things, with subtitle "What Categories Reveal about the Mind." In that book you refer to the word "over," which is another structure of language, that reflects categories or where the language reflects the way we think.
GEORGE LAKOFF: The work referred to in this book was originally done by ?Claudia ?Brugman, and I've reworked her analysis to some extent and shortened it. What she discovered was something rather remarkable. First, if you take what we'll consider the central sense of "over," as in "John walked over the hill" or "the plane flew over the hill," it's above and across something. Now, you might say, So what? I mean, why is this interesting? Well, consider the following situation. Suppose you're watching a tennis game, and you have a ball moving with respect to a net. It can move over it, under it, through it, and so on. If you ask how many trajectories the ball can have, how many scenes of the ball moving with respect to the net can you see, the answer is an infinite number. Yet you, out of this infinity you can pick a certain class as being over, another class as being under, and so on. All right. What kind of concept allows you to categorize an infinity of scenes? Well, the answer is a very general topological concept, the concept that has to do with generalizations over geometry. So, "over" has to do with a path, and it has to do with two bounded regions each at one end of the path, and verticality, so it's over rather than under, and a lack of contact in general, as in the ball going over the net rather than into it or hitting it. Now, these various things like trajectories and bounded regions are topological concepts that recur in case after case. Now, what's particularly interesting about "over" is that that is only one sense of "over." What ?Brugman discovered was that there were something like more than a hundred senses of over, over a hundred senses of over, as in things like this. If you take something like "turn the page over," or "he spread the tablecloth over the table," or "the play is over," or "do it over" but "don't overdo it," or "look over my corrections, but don't overlook any of them," or "he made over a hundred errors." There are lots and lots of senses, yet we know that they're the same word. All right. The question is, Why is it that words have many sense? and How are these senses related to one another? Do we just learn big lists of arbitrary things? or do we learn things that are systematically linked? Well, what ?Brugman discovered was that there are systematic linkages between these senses. So, take the notion of over as in "the ball went over the net" or "he walked over the hill" where you have a path going above and across something. You have another sense of over where you say "Sam lives over the hill," where that's the end point of a potential or real path. It's very common to have a preposition have two meanings, one tracing a path and one focusing on the end point of that path. For example, you can say, "John walked through the doorway," that's a path, or "the passport office is through the doorway," that's the end point. Or "John walked around the corner" and "John lives around the corner," or "he walked across the street" and "he lives across the street." So you have two senses, the path and the end point of the path. Well, then it turns out there are many other senses that are systematically linked. For example, if you have a path as in "the bird flew over the yard," you can also take a one-dimensional line that traces that path, as in "the clothesline spread over the yard" or "stretched over the yard." So there's a systematic relationship between a path and a fixed one-dimensional object. And this shows up in many lexical items. Take something likeó
MP: End points, I can haveó
GEORGE LAKOFF: It can, you can take a path and focus on end points.
MP: You can take the path itself.
GEORGE LAKOFF: And have it be a line. I'll give you another example of that. Take the word "run." You can say "John ran through the woods" or "the road runs through the woods." All right? So, there are systematic relationships between paths and end points or paths and full lines, and these give rise to related senses. These are, we call these "?image ?schema transformations." Metaphors can operate on these things to give you still other senses. Take an expression like "over the hill." Okay, you have a non-metaphoric sense where it's the normal sense of over, you can walk over a hill or something like that. But there's a general metaphor for a career, in which a career is motion upward, sort of an upward journey, you climb the ladder, you reach the top, and so on. And when you're past the peak of your career, you're over the hill. All right. So that you take the central sense of over and you have this notion of a career as an upward journey, and, ya know, you get a metaphorical sense of over as in "over the hill." Well, there are dozens and dozens of such senses that arise in this fashion.
MP: What would you call that process?
GEORGE LAKOFF: The phenomenon is called "polysemy," poly-semy, as in many meanings, so this is a case where one word has many meanings. Generally, you have a central meaning, as in "he walked over the hill," and then there are extensions, the process is called "extending the meaning." But there are regular, the extensions are regular, they're not random extensions. They're usually general image schema transformations, that is, cognitive processes that relate paths, the end points of paths, for example, or metaphors that are there in the conceptual system, in the way we understand things, and those metaphors can also be ................ to these extensions.
MP: Excellent. So, the relationship in "over" would be if I, if someone told me that the shuttle Challenger flew over my house, and I lived in Los Angeles, I would presume that it was somewhere, it flew a few hundred miles somewhere above Los Angeles, but I certainly would not have assumed that it was over, Denver. So I have a geometric line going, a cone going up into the air.
GEORGE LAKOFF: Right.
MP: Similarly, if they say "meet me when the play is over," I have transformed that cone into a time line.
GEORGE LAKOFF: Well, yes, but it's more, it's trickier than that. "The play is over" is several steps away from the center of "over." And to see that, take something like "he walked over the bridge." Okay? When you walk over the bridge, say, to the other side of the river, you can say when someone is over, is at the other side, you can say "he's over," meaning he's at the other side of this. He's over, and he's over relative to this, the river that he's gone across. Now, there's a metaphorical sense of over having to do with, that applies in plays and scripts and things like that, where there is a path, like, ya know, just as a bridge defines a path, so a script defines a path that the players have to perform. When they reach the end of this script path, then the play is over, just as when you reach, go to the other side of the bridge, you're over. And that is one method of extension, that we have. And, if you take another method of extension, take your one-dimensional case, where you have the clothesline stretched over the yard, okay, that's one line. Well, if you, you can make that into a two-dimensional item, as in "the tablecloth is spread over the table." But now, the one-dimensional case doesn't have the same properties as the two-dimensional case, and this is very interesting. The two-dimensional case can be rotated in all sorts of directions, so you can have a tapestry being over the wall. Or even a tapestry being over the ceiling when it's actually under the ceiling.
MP: Mm hmm.
GEORGE LAKOFF: Right? But, if you have a clotheslineó
MP: It's over the holes in the ceiling.
GEORGE LAKOFF: It's over the whole ceiling, right?
MP: It's over the hole in the ceiling as well.
GEORGE LAKOFF: That's right. It covers, in that sense. But even if it's actually below, it can still be over. If it's two-dimensional. But not if it's one-dimensional.
MP: Right [in a whisper].
GEORGE LAKOFF: That if you have a clothesline stretching across the room just under the ceiling, you wouldn't say it was over the ceiling. So only two-dimensional ones get to rotate.
MP: We'll be right back. This is Michael Phillips, the program is Social Thought, and our guest today is George Lakoff, author of two books recently, Metaphors We Live By and Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things. He's professor of linguistics at U.C. Berkeley. So far we've discussed the structure and concepts around the phrase "romantic love" and the word "over." Mr.ÝLakoff, would you give us some examples that the word "more" is up.
GEORGE LAKOFF: Well, take a sentence like "prices went up" or "prices rose." Why do you use "up"? Why not "down"? Why not "sideways"? Why not anything? Well, it turns out that in many languages, and English is one, we understand quantity in terms of verticality. That is, we say, not only "prices rose," but they fell, they hit bottom, they hit their peak, and so on. Now, in general we understand increases in terms of things going upward. And that, and this is a systematic way we have of understanding things. And this isn't accidental. You might say, Why do you, why is it the case that more is up and not down? Well, it's sort of obvious. In your experience, there's a correlation between more of something, you pour more water into the glass, the level goes up. If you pile more books on your desk, the level goes up. You take some off, the level goes down. So there's a corresponding, correspondence in your experience between more and up, on the one hand, and less and down on the other. That correspondence can be made into a metaphor, and is in this language, so we normally understand "more" as being oriented up and "less" as being oriented down.
MP: Is it very widespread, in languages, that more is up?
GEORGE LAKOFF: Not all languages have it, but we know of no language where more is down. [MP chuckles.] And, it's not an accident that this occurs, that this does have to do with our experience, and our metaphorical understanding, which is very rich kind of understanding, is based very much on our everyday experience.
MP: We've looked about four different processes in language and I know there are many more, the Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things looks at, at least three or four other major categories in which the mind either structures language or the language structures the mind, which is a question I want to ask. Which, where does the structure come first?
GEORGE LAKOFF: I think it's primarily conceptual structure which is then reflected in language. Language, however, allows you, when you, to learn, when you learn words, you corró, you learn to fix particular concepts that are associated or expressed by that word, by a given word. Basically, language is a reflection of the structure of thought.
MP: So the structure of thought is there in our society. As we learn the language, we learn the structure of thought, because the language is hung, sort of hung on the hooks of the structure.
GEORGE LAKOFF: Yes.
MP: And, then, does that allow us to say more things about the structure? or the categories of mind?
GEORGE LAKOFF: Well, very much so. One thing that you might ask about a category is, what is one. I mean categories turned out to be rather important. You might ask why did I choose to write a book about categories. Well, if you ask where do categories arise in your everyday life, the answer is, where don't they arise in your everyday life. Everything you do is done relative to a category. Your very actions are parts of categories of actions. Like, you lift a glass. Each time you lift it, it's an instant of a category of liftings. You generally categorize people, into various types of things. You categorize physical objects, into desks, tables, trees, and so on. You can't think or reason without categories. You have them all over the place. So the question is, What are they? Well, there is a classical view of categories that says that a category is a collection of objects that have certain properties in common. That is a view that goes back at least to Aristotle, and it's a view that's been received over the past 2,500 years and very largely accepted. It turns our that it's not true.
MP: That's definitely the basis thesis of Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things.
GEORGE LAKOFF: Yah. What has been found is that categories have an extremely rich structure. I mean, in fact, not just one kind of structure, many different kinds of category structure. One of the kinds of work that showed originally that category did not have the classical structure of just necessary and sufficient conditions on shared properties, was done by a colleague of mine at Berkeley, ?Eleanor ?Rosch, a psychologist there, who showed that just about every category we have has what she called the prototype structure.
MP: ............... tables.
GEORGE LAKOFF: Yeah. So, let me give you some examples.
GEORGE LAKOFF: Table, chair, bird. If I say, Which is the best example of a chair? A desk chair, a barber chair, a beanbag chair, or an electric chair? it's pretty clear. A desk chair is a better example of a chair than a barber chair or an electric chair or a beanbag chair. And this is true across most people. That is, generally, people can give you, can cite best examples of things. If you take birds, as another example, it turns out things like robins and sparrows are very good examples of birds. Penguins and pelicans are less good examples of birds. They're all still birds, but one is sort of a better example than another, and there are many tests that she had to show this. For example, there was one experiment that was set up where a sentence was flashed in front of you and you had to say True or False as quickly as possible, pressing a button, and they timed how long it took you to press the button. So if you had something like "a robin is a bird," that's flashed up there, you press True very quickly. If you have "a cow is a bird," you press False very quickly. If you have something like "an ostrich is a bird," you press True, but slightly, somewhat less quickly than with robin. And if you have something like "a chicken is a bird," you wind up pressing True, but somewhere in between robin and ostrich. And this gives you a scale, and it turns out that she did many, many kinds of different experiments of this sort, and the scales turned out pretty much the same. That is, we have a goodness of example structure, within a category. Now. One question that you can ask is, Where does this structure come from? That is, do we have reasons why we have goodness of example structures? And, what we've been finding is that this structure comes from our models of reality, our models of the world, what we'll call cognitive models. And there are many different kinds of structures that we have. One particularly interesting kind of structure is what we'll call a metonymic structure. The term "metonymy" comes from a case where one word or expression can stand for another. An example of metonymy might be something like, one waitress says to another, "the ham sandwich wants his check," where she's using the ham sandwich to stand for the customer or ordered the ham sandwich. Well, this phenomenon, metonymy, occurs in categorization. You can understand, often, a whole category in terms of some subpart of that category. And there are various kinds of subparts. For example, there are social stereotypes. So we have, you know, social stereotypes of various racial sorts. We also have typical cases, there are typical birds, the robins and sparrows and so on are typical birds, and we normally understand what birds are in terms of the most typical cases. We also have a differentó
MP: Metonymy is a fundamental categorical process.
GEORGE LAKOFF: Yes. Metonymy is a way that we use to have one part of a conceptual structure stand for another part of that structure.
MP: So we do it in a lot of ways, not just in words, but we do it in daily practice.
GEORGE LAKOFF: Yeah. The words are just, are reflections of very complex thought processes.
MP: He's got his wheels, today.
GEORGE LAKOFF: Well, "he's got his wheels" is another case of metonymy, right, where the wheels stand for the car. Or "we need a good glove at third base." Those are cases where the part stands for the whole. Of course, there are cases where the part may not stand for the whole, but for some other part of the concept, as in, ya know, "the ham sandwich wants his check."
MP: Or "drop me off downtown"ó
GEORGE LAKOFF: Drop me off downó
MP: ójust a teeny part of the process.
GEORGE LAKOFF: Yeah, or, well, if you've ever stood in a parking lot and looked around and said, "oh, I'm over there," meaning "my car is over there." Right? Or, "I've got a dent in the fender."
MP: So metonymy is a very common, everyday practice of our mind.
GEORGE LAKOFF: Yes. It's common, and you don't even have to use words to do it. For example, a linguist named Jeff ?Nunberg observed that you can do it with pointing.
MP: Well, the Japanese point to their nose when they mean themselves.
GEORGE LAKOFF: Sure. Or, take cases like, if you see a copy of the San Francisco Examiner, you can point to it and say, "Hearst owns that," meaning the company, not the copy of the newspaper.
MP: Uh huh.
GEORGE LAKOFF: Where the newspaper stands for the company that produced the newspaper.
MP: And so that metonymic concept is actually built into our structure of our words and which gives them a centrality, or a best example.
GEORGE LAKOFF: Well, yeah. What happens there is that metonymy is used to evoke either a whole category, a whole structure, or some other part of it. Now, in categories you have various types of metonymies. So you might have a typical case standing for the whole category, or you might have an ideal case standing for the whole category. Ideal cases are very interesting, and they, let me give you an example. There's a big difference between a typical husband and an ideal husband. And you use examples, stereotypes of typical husbands and ideal husbands, in very different situations. Ideals are used for judging or for ranking, for the sake of getting one, for example. Whereas, something like a typical case is used for just making inferences and if you don't know anything more about the category.
MP: A typical husband doesn't cook dinner.
GEORGE LAKOFF: Right.
MP: An ideal husband is very sensitive to the needs of children.
GEORGE LAKOFF: Yeah. For example.
MP: And people have these conceptions.
GEORGE LAKOFF: Yes. We have lots of stereotypes and typical cases, ideals, and many other complex features of our conceptual systems. One of the things that people in cognitive science and cognitive linguistics do is try to figure out what our conceptual systems are like on the basis of the structure of our language.
MP: Whew! Wow. You have a new book, which I didn't get a chance to ask you about.
GEORGE LAKOFF: It's a book that's just gone to the publisher, again University of Chicago Press. It's done jointly with Mark Turner, who is a literary critic at the University of Chicago. It's called More Than Cool Reason: A Guide to Poetic Metaphor and what we've done there is written a book that introduces people to how metaphor works in poetry. We've tried to make it available so that anyone can read it, and very accessible to beginning students and so on, with lots and lots of examples of how metaphor works.
MP: Ah. So that's sort of a subset of what you're looking at overall. We had the metaphor book, we had the Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things. And, by the way, the listeners will have to get the book Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things to understand how that title relates to what we've just been talking about. I want to thank you for being with us, George.
This is Michael Phillips, the program is Social Thought, and our guest was George Lakoff. The books he mentioned were Metaphors We Live By, which is published by University of Chicago Press, Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things by the same press, and all these books should be readily available in your bookstores. George is also a professor of linguistics at the University of California in Berkeley.