Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Couple Quotes to Go with My Most Recent Post

Another aspect of pragmatics, namely the relation between the use of an expression in the context in which it is used, plays a role in the analysis of a different type of metaphoric expression. Thus, on the question of whether semantic deviance is a necessary condition for metaphoric, one may adduce examples like The oak has finally fallen, used with respect to the death or physical collapse of the stalwart person. Here we have an expression (representative of a large class) which is not semantically deviant, but which nonetheless functions metaphorically. It should be borne in mind, however, that for such examples to be understood metaphorically, the contexts of use must be exploited in a crucial way. It is only when the context involves a person, not a tree, that such expression can assume a metaphoric value. Such expressions, therefore, are equivocal, shifting in their status between literal and metaphoric, depending on the accompanying frame of reference. Although not semantically deviant, such metaphors evince what we might call pragmatic deviance: for them to function as metaphors, there must be some disparity between their literal sense and the environment in which they are uttered, and this disparity signals that they are to be understood as metaphors. In that they depend for their effect on disaccord between the expression and the conditions of use, equivocal metaphors bear an affinity to idioms, ironic utterances, and indirect speech acts.[1]

“prolixity is an icon of concealment” (Suzanne Kemmer, “Functional Linguistics: Iconicity,” 59). The social distance of a formal utterance and its meaning depends largely on the context in which it is stated. As one’s clarification of a term is longer than the term itself, that which accompanies the expression clarifies its meaning (Ibid.).

[1] Samuel R. Levin, “Linguistics and Literature: Metaphor,” in William J. Frawley, ed. The International Encyclopedia of Linguistics, vol. 2  (Oxford University Press, 2003), 48­1­­–82.

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