English 270, Fall 2017
See also: Assignments and Updates
This is the Blackboard Page. All supplemental materials for English 270 will be posted below.
Ye Newe Mini-Grammar:
I. Phrase Structure Rules (to get to basic structures)
[I'm somewhat restricted in formatting what follows—I've had to write out the rules more than once—so there are two "S —› something" rules here instead of the one, more concise form on the paper version. And so on.]
II. Transformational Rules (or, Changes you can make in basic structures to generate revised structures)
Caution: This is not a complete grammar, but it does account for many of the major structures of English. You will think of many sentences these structures won’t quite explain, but few for which you shouldn’t be able to get the main idea.
3. The Speaker in the Text
Style is the characteristic way in which people (or texts, if you allow yourself to think of a text as something which behaves like a person) choose to express themselves. In speaking or writing, people make choices among different ways of saying things, choosing among different words which have similar meanings, or between one sort of sentence structure and another. When you meet someone in the street, for example, as a speaker of English you will have a whole range of possible greetings—each one a way to recognize another person in passing. But which one you choose will depend on who that person is, how well you know them, whether you like them, your mood at the time. “How do you do, sir?” “Hello, how are you”; “Say man, what’s happening?” “Hi, guy!”—each of these expressions (and you can think of many more) are standard greetings (even if you personally don’t choose to use all of them), and they mean just about the same thing. Each is a formulaic recognition of someone else’s presence, and an invitation to respond with the same. [None of these expressions, by the way, usually asks for any particular information. When we say “How are you,” we rarely are interested in a person’s health. In fact, if someone were to answer, “Well, I’ve got a cold actually, and I have had trouble with my back” we’d find their reply strange.]
But though these different expressions all mean “about the same thing” (linguists would say the expressions are “cognitively synonymous”), and thus though stylistic choices often do not in themselves make any explicit contribution to an utterance’s meaning, still they all have effect on an audience and make important implicit contributions to what we say. Were you to see some important authority figure in the street, someone with whom you were not close friends but knew well enough to greet, you’d unconsciously consult your inner register competence and you would probably use “How do you do?” or “Hello, how are you?” before you’d go with “Say man, what’s happening?”—and if you DID try the slang register version, you might well get a response you weren’t looking for.
One of the most important ways stylistic choices affect their readers or hearers is by projecting a speaking voice. Read the following two passages aloud (since hearing may make the effect more clear):
1. Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
2. I haven’t checked these figures, but 87 years ago, I think it was, a number of individuals organized a governmental set-up here in this country, I believe it covered certain Eastern areas, with this idea they were following up based on a sort of national independence arrangement and the program that every individual is just as good as every other individual.
Passage 1 is the first sentence of Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.” It is one of the best known sentences in English. In it Lincoln begins his address by immediately projecting a voice which is formal, controlled, thoughtful, yet also direct, authoritative and sensible. It is a voice perfectly appropriate to its occasion—the dedication of a part of the Gettysburg battlefield as a cemetery for men killed in the Civil War—and it is in large part the sense of voice which Lincoln’s stylistic choices create that has made his words so memorable.
Passage 2, by contrast, is from a Time magazine satire by Oliver Jensen of the way President Eisenhower conducted his news conferences. It obviously echoes Lincoln—it is in fact a translation of Lincoln’s sentence into what in the 1950's was called “Eisenhowerese.” But though both passages say generally the same things, in passage 2 the satirist has made stylistic decisions about how to say those things that are very different from the decisions Lincoln made, and the result is that the passage projects a vastly different sense of speaking voice. In place of the succinct rhythms of Lincoln’s prose which project a sense of a man who is clear about his beliefs and direct in asserting them, this passage projects a sense of a speaker who is sure of nothing, and can do little more than wander vaguely in search of a point to make. Here the speaker seems tentative and disorganized, utterly without authority or conviction.
The implications of this example are several. First, it illustrates that whether drawn from a formal and even archaic register like Lincoln’s remarks on one hand, or whether from an impromptu and informally conversational register in the way the satirist presents Eisenhower, all discourse projects some kind of a speaking voice. Second, the examples also show how the voice projected is a product of words used, sentences written. “Fourscore and seven years ago,” Lincoln begins, purposefully choosing a way of saying “87” that even in the nineteenth century was old-fashioned and formal sounding, and by doing so immediately sends a signal that this is a formal occasion and that the speaker is serious, high-minded, and respectful of tradition. What we perceive as the "voice" of the speaker is the product of the words the writer uses.
Third, and this is most important for the kind of analysis that you will be doing here, even for those English speakers who (unlike you at this point!) don’t know how to describe clearly the voice of passages like 1 and 2 above, and even if they haven’t yet developed the conscious awareness of language necessary to describing how particular words have particular stylistic effects, nevertheless everyone who knows English also knows enough to recognize these different voices, and to do so with a great deal of skill and reliability. In the same way you do not consciously translate words you hear into particular meanings, but rather understand them unconsciously without even trying to do so, you also automatically “hear” style, and you also automatically imagine, even if only vaguely, the speaker behind it.
Given these facts, the analysis we’ll be doing here has a three-fold object. First, it will give you a chance to learn or review a set of basic linguistic and writing concepts. Second, seeing how various writers employ particular language choices in order to accomplish certain purposes should also put you in a better position to make such choices yourself. And third, it will help you become a more empirically grounded close-reader. Whether you have thought about it before or not, whether you want to or not, reading (and on the generative side its sibling writing) absolutely requires you to be aware of the range of stylistic options the language supplies you. Obviously, the more you know about those options, the more control you’ll have of the reading, writing and speaking you do.
RESPONDING TO SPEAKERS—What you may not know that you know
What sorts of stylistic particulars does an audience intuitively respond to? First, we are quite well trained to respond to explicit Characterizing Cues, certain qualities of language through which a text both characterizes its speaker and audience, and establishes a particular relationship between the two. That sounds a little complicated, but sending and receiving such cues is something speakers and listeners do all the time. Through various stylistic choices, we make ourselves seem friendly or distant, stuffy or informal, straightforward or comic. In fact, whether you know it or not, whether you wish to or not, you can neither listen nor speak to someone else without responding, or causing your audience to respond, to one language-defined role or another. To become aware of this process, you only have to think of the different tones of voice you would use to (or hear from) a baby as opposed to a college professor, your mother as opposed to your lover, your best friend as opposed to the mayor of Seattle, your worst enemy to whom you wish never again to say a word, as opposed to your worst enemy to whom you still speak. Part of knowing a language is knowing that the way we speak to one person will not always be appropriate to the way we speak to other people. We are, in fact, constantly at work adopting and interpreting roles—though we often do so without a fully conscious awareness of the process.
In addition to responding to explicit characterizing cues, we are also well-trained to respond to the ways in which certain stylistic choices carry Situational Cues, where the context in which someone says something adds something important to what the lexical meanings (dictionary definitions) of the passage’s words overtly declare. These Situational Cues are important; at times, in fact, they may have even more force than lexical meanings, though more usually they work along with lexical meanings to constitute the whole speech act. Consider, for example, “irony,” an effect whereby a speaker can use a tone of voice, or some inappropriateness to the speaking situation of what he or she says, in order to invert meaning. Imagine, for example, a rainy and unseason-ably cold summer day on which a speaker enters a room and says: “What a lovely day!” Since the conventional judgment of such a day is just the opposite—not lovely, but ghastly—the inappropriateness of such a remark will lead most listeners to suspect that the speaker is being “ironic”—pretending to praise the day, but really disliking it just as much as the rest of us, and in fact saying so, but only by using irony.
The point though, is that in context the net meaning of the sentence “What a lovely day!” is that the day isn’t lovely at all—though the simple lexical content of the words, taken by themselves, would say that it is. The Situational Cues for irony, then, create extra-lexical meaning; and they do so by partaking of a linguistic convention which plays the lexical meaning of an utterance against the particular speech situation in which the utterance occurs, thus making the sentence mean more than (adding something “extra” to) what the words alone would support.
In general, whether through explicit Characterizing Cues or through implicit Situational Cues, speakers and texts bring about certain responses in their readers, and it’s important that writers be able to see them working. Remember that there is simply no way to avoid causing some kind of effect. Words create response whether we want them to or not. The question here concerns how we can become more skilled in characterizing our responses when we read, and more effective in creating responses in our own readers when we write.
SPEAKER ANALYSIS--Step 1: Intuitive Responses, or, Where to begin
To analyze a passage to describe its speaker you’ll find it easiest to begin with the Speaker Checklist below. Since you already know a great deal about characterizing speakers, even if you don’t have much conscious control of what you know, all the Checklist does is to supply a set of questions to start the process of making you more aware of what your intuitions about language can tell you. For the most part, the kinds of judgments involved here are those which you are already quite accustomed to making—though again, usually without even noticing it—in ordinary speaking, reading, and writing.
1) How does the writer set the rhetorical situation? Does s/he speak in the first person? third person? Does the writer project a strong sense of personality, or does s/he try to stay unobtrusively in the background? If the text is a poem or a story, does the writer present him or herself as a kind of “character”? If so, how would you describe that character? Does she seem old? young? stable? a bit odd?
2) How would you characterize the “tone” of the speaker? friendly? formal? distant? stuffy? uneducated? “down home”? vatic? weird? controlled? academic? poetic? authoritative? (Keep in mind that English has hundreds of words that can characterize tone. Often you will need several in order to capture a full sense of your speaker.)
3) What does s/he offer you with which to construct an image of himself/
herself? How learned (say)? Or nervous? Or humorous? Or cynical? Or earnest?
How does the language reflect the sorts of things this speaker knows?
How far, in short, can you use the speaker’s language to fill out
his or her character? Is she a mother? a doctor? a Queen? Is he a kid
brother, a student? Is she sixteen? From the East? Does she/he reveal
any fears? Desires? Interests?
Making clear your general responses to a speaker is a good way to start an analysis. But once you’ve made some judgments about what the language implicitly asks of you, and about how it implicitly characterizes its speaker, your next task will be to explain precisely what you think it is about the speaker’s language which creates the effects that you intuitively feel. Suppose, for example, that your intuition tells you that a speaker seems “friendly.” Analysis wants you to find specific characteristics of the style which create this effect. If the voice seems “friendly,” there will be specific stylistic characteristics which will create this sense for you. Perhaps (for example) the writer’s point of view is first person—the speaker says “I want,” and “I believe” instead of “It is imperative that,” or “One believes.” Or perhaps the writer’s word choices (“diction”) are informal and familiar (“If you want to know more about it”), instead of formal and distant (“Should the reader wish to be better informed”).
Alternatively, if you had a sense that a speaker seemed to be expecting a great deal of sophistication and education from you, your task would be to point to specific words, phrases, or syntactic structures which you felt led you to the response you made. Perhaps there are a number of passive constructions, or the diction is heavily latinate, or the subject matter is relatively abstruse, or there are allusions to classical authors, made with the brevity one would use only with those for whom such allusions are mere reminders of what they already know. Any or all of these stylistic characteristics would tend to create a sense that the speaker is educated, complex, maybe even academic, and, correspondingly, that you, as reader, ought to be able to handle relatively complex matters. All such characteristics are part of a writer’s style, and are relevant to understanding and explaining (“analyzing”) your original responses.
This particularizing step of analysis—through which you move from an intuitive “feel” or “sense” of the style’s effect to a specific description of that style’s characteristics—will require that you either develop or review a certain amount of knowledge about the choices the English language actually offers a speaker, and about what the conventional implications of such choices generally are. Here, the following considerations should help you to be specific about your intuitions:
Diction, or Word Choice
From what level of diction are the writer’s words drawn? Are they simple, and often common, monosyllabic? Or are they “dictionary” words, long, polysyllabic? Are they abstruse or recondite (whether polysyllabic or not?) Formal? Conversational? Do you notice any other peculiarities of diction? Does the writer make up new words? Does s/he use slang? If the speaker uses slang, HOW are the words slangy? Is it the slang of dialect? is it an aggressive slang? is it obscene? Does s/he use old-fashioned language? Jargon? Are words used out of their proper contexts (are levels of diction mixed)? or are they borrowed from other languages?
Syntax, or Sentence Structure
Special Effects: Figures of Form, Metaphors, Images
First, for form: does the writer use phonetic patterns? Are sounds repeated? Is there Alliteration, for example, or Assonance? Are there rhythmic patterns? Or does the writer repeat words or structures to create patterns of words or sentences?
Second, for metaphors: does the writer use them at all? If so, are they new and imaginative, or dead or dying? are they clichés? From what sort of background are they drawn? Barnyards? Banquets? The sky and the heavens? (If they ARE drawn from special areas, what does that say about the speaker? If they are from barnyards, for example, what sort of speaker would know about barnyards? If they are computer talk, who knows that?)
Third, for images (metaphoric and not): are there any? If so, to what senses do they appeal? (Sound, sight, taste, touch, smell, movement?) What kind of awareness/knowledges do these images suggest the speaker has?
This Style Checklist is not complete—there are other choices writers can make. Moreover, neither will everything on the list be interesting in every piece of writing, nor does the list suggest very fully what sorts of effects are generally created by each of these characterizing cues. As I have already said, that is something the speakers of any language actually already know a great deal about, and finding ways to bring that knowledge to bear in conscious ways is a major goal in working with specific examples in class. Some of these cues will certainly occur in the passages you deal with, and you will first need to identify them if you are then to explain the effects you ave intuitively (and provisionally) hypothesized.
In steps one and two you’ve identified your responses and you’ve described what you take to be their causes. The last step of the analysis has two parts. The first is simply to check and refine your original responses. As you have become more familiar with the style, and have noticed and described more of the choices your author/speaker has made, you will often find yourself able to be more precise about the responses you first made in Step 1. You may even find that your original response—for whatever reasons—misfired, and that what you originally took to be an honest, straightforward tyle, for example, now seems to you ironic, or satirical. That’s fine. First responses are not sacrosanct, though they are still strong evidence with which to begin your work.
But having checked/refined your sense of the style, your final task is to connect your now well-informed sense of the text’s style to the passage’s overt meaning. Does the work’s style help, reinforce, or extend, the work’s overt sense? Does it “fit” the work? Is, for example, a text about the dignity of human life written in a “dignified” style? Or does the work’s style in fact run counter to its sense? In a composition textbook, for example, does the writer urge us to write simple and clear prose while using the jargon of education courses and an intimidating array of complex and periodic sentences? Again, a good example of a style that is brilliantly appropriate to its situation is to be found in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Lincoln’s object is to dedicate a cemetery—a serious and solemn task, and as we saw above, for doing so he creates a voice that is solemn, controlled, and properly respectful of tradition.)
If you’ve done your work well, this last step will be the pay-off, a place where you can see and judge how well writers have used the resources of English to achieve their purposes, and—more important in English 270/370 —a place from which your own sense of style can be refined and extended. For writing well very much depends not just upon a clear understanding of what responses we want from any given writing we do, but also upon our knowing what resources the language provides with which those responses can be pursued.
How to Get This Down on Paper
Writing about style is no different from any other writing you do, but it may seem so owing to the step-by-step method I’ve given you for analyzing various texts. Some of you will find yourselves knee-deep in observations—burdened, in effect, with so much to say, and so much that is disparate and seemingly miscellaneous, that you won’t know how to proceed. The problem, though, lies not so much in the kind of writing you are doing as in the fact that this analytical procedure can be a very productive way to generate commentary. As a result, instead of having most students' traditional worry about whether you will ever think of enough to say, a full analysis of any of these passages may provide you with more material than you can possibly put in a single paper. Of course, not everyone likes that position, but it is an absolute godsend for good writing. Focusing and organizing a lot of information can be tough, but they sure as heck beat trying to make something out of nothing!
What, though, to do? In essence, writing about style is just the reverse of analyzing it, and thus what you do now is to go backwards. In analysis, the task was to start from the details of the text, observing, describing, classifying, in order to come to a general conclusion about the way the piece constructed its speaker, and how well or badly it anaged the task. But when, by contrast, you’re writing about style, the task is just the opposite: You begin with your general conclusion—the thing you’ve worked through your analysis in order to be able to say—and you then work step by step to set out your reasons for thinking what you do.
That is important enough to repeat: the analysis process is inductive. When you analyze something, you begin with small bits of information, with just intuitive responses to the text. But then as you work to understand the style of the passage, first by describing your responses, then by explaining those responses by describing the passage’s various stylistic features, you gradually put yourself in position to draw some sort of conclusion about what response the writer is aiming at, and how it is obtained.
A paper about style, on the other hand, ought to start precisely where analysis ends: with your conclusions (though now, since we’re writing an essay, we call those conclusions an "argument," or a "claim," or a "thesis"). Then, with your claim stated, and stated clearly and fully, you can proceed to show your reasons for having made your claim. And please keep in mind that until you give your reader reasons to believe you, your claim about the passage is just (and only) that: a claim. Remember that your reader will not have thought about the passage as closely as you have, and may not see it the way you do. Your job is to write fully, but also convincingly, about what you see your passage's effects to be.
So imagine that your reader also has the kind of chip on his/her shoulder that says “show me!” before believing anything. You role for such a reader is both to provide a description of the speaking voice you think the passage creates, and to explain as clearly and as fully as you can just what you see in the passage that has led you to your conclusions. Even if the conclusions you have come to seem obvious to you, remember that your reader still may not share them. Here as in any other paper you write you are making an argument, giving grounds to support the results of your thinking. Your task (I say again) is thus to marshal your reasons effectively and efficiently in order to show your reader how they justify your argument.
Seeing it Work
I cited the first sentence of The Gettysburg Address above. I give you the whole of it now, and it is followed by a (very good) student essay written to characterize and explain its speaking voice. Read through the Address carefully and aloud. Then spend a few minutes trying steps one and two of the analysis I outlined above. Then, finally, go on to read the essay.
The Gettysburg Address
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.
The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Nov. 19, 1863
A Stylistic Analysis of Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address"
“The Gettysburg Address” is obviously a very formal piece, but at the same time, it is intimate and the speaker identifies himself with the common man. The speaker is the leader of the people to whom he directs his remarks; but his distance from his audience is important: he is one of them, they are one family.The speaker is well-educated, yet humble, with a firm sense of his own and his listener’s dignity. He is a man of conviction, he is patriotic, reflective, visionary. While capable of great eloquence, he seems by nature a laconic man, not at all gifted with the gab, but measured and deliberate in his utterance.
From his audience, Lincoln seems to expect serious attention. He seems to expect a mood of sadness, perhaps disillusionment or doubt. But he assumes that he and his listeners share the same broad fundamental beliefs in God, human dignity and democracy. He places himself on the same level as his listeners by joining them in an attitude of awe and respect for the dead they have come together to honor. This rhetorical stance of equality with the audience is crucial because it inspires their assent to his call for further courage and self-sacrifice.
Lincoln achieves these effects, first of all, by means of his choice of the first-person plural point of view. He stands equal with his listeners; “we” and “ours” is used throughout. Lincoln’s mixed diction also contributes to the feeling of his equal stance with his audience. Latin and Anglo-Saxon words are brilliantly combined to convey the sense of a speaker who is educated, capable of grasping abstract ideas, while still remaining a common man. It sends the message: “You and I may be regular guys, but we are capable of grasping ideals and of making heroic efforts.” Almost all of Lincoln’s political ideas are conveyed in Latinate terminology (e.g. “continent,” “nation,” “liberty,” “proposition,” “conceived,” “dedicated,” “engaged,” “civil,” “equal,” “proper”). Along side this abstract but not recondite vocabulary, making his message more accessible to his listeners, are a great number of simple, short Anglo-Saxon words, most of which are in common use (e.g., “fathers,” “men living and dead,” “field,” “ground,” “earth,” “work,” “God,” “brought forth,” “birth of freedom”).
Two or three phrases are worth special note. “Fourscore” is Anglo-Saxon; it is solid, definite, sure. The origin of the word is Germanic, giving it a common cast, yet it was not, I think, even l50 years ago, used frequently; it has an archaic flavor. The word suits Lincoln’s purpose perfectly; it achieves a formal tone without creating distance between the speaker and audience. Another phrase worth notice is “our fathers brought forth.” Again, the words are Germanic in origin. They are common and humble, yet measured and somber in their sound and rhythm, conveying almost a tribal sense between speaker and audience.
The rhythm of “The Gettysburg Address” is slow and measured, conveying not only the sense of the speaker as laconic and reflective, but the feeling that the occasion itself is a somber one. Repetition is a key device in the address: repetition of words, phrases, clauses (with slight variation) and syntactic forms. Some examples of repeated phrases are “a new nation . . . that nation . . . or any nation. . . that that nation.” A clause repeated with slight change is “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work. . . . It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task. . . .” Parallel constructions abound: “we cannot dedicate . . . we cannot consecrate . . . we cannot hallow . . .” and “conceived in liberty . . . dedicated to the proposition . . . so conceived and so dedicated. . . .” In the last sentence we have a kind of extreme of this repetition of parallel phrases, for “that from these dead we take . . . that we here highly . . . that this nation . . . that this government. . . .” Then, finally, Lincoln ends with still another set of parallels as his conclusion—the famous “of the people, by the people and for the people.”
For the most part, the syntax of the “Gettysburg Address” is loose, allowing for easy comprehension in oral speech. One of the ways Lincoln comes across as a laconic speaker who does not care to show off his education is through his frequent use of short clauses. He can thereby convey complex thoughts in the fewest possible words. Examples include sentence one: “a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition . . .” and sentence two: “civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated. . . .” Lincoln will also delete part of a complex conjunction to gain the same effect, (e.g., in sentence four, in place of “so that” he has “for those who here gave lives that that nation. . . .”)
In conclusion, Lincoln’s ability to use complex patterns and syntactic structures, as well as his use of Latinate diction, create a tone of formal, even distanced intellect, and supplies credence to the ideals he holds up to his audience. His Anglo-Saxon word choices and the simplifications of grammatical structures, on the other hand, as well as the point of view he has chosen, help put him on common ground with his listeners.
Two Practice Passages--
Using the Speaker in the Text to guide your work write out a description of each of these speakers as you "hear" them, and then note as many characteristics of the language in first one passage and then the other as you can.
1. Ecclesiastes, from the Bible, King James Version
Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun? One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth forever. The sun also riseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose. The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again to his circuits. All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again. All things are full of labor; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. The thing which hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.
2. Ernest Hemingway, from “Big Two-Hearted River”
Nick looked at the burned-over stretch of hillside, where he had expected
to find the scattered houses of the town and then walked down the railroad
track to the bridge over the river. The river was there. It swirled against
the log piles of the bridge. Nick looked down into the clear, brown water,
colored from the pebbly bottom, and watched the trout keeping themselves
steady in the current with wavering fins. As he watched them they changed
their positions by quick angles, only to hold steady in the fast water
again. Nick watched them a long time.
More Speaker passages—more practice
3. Jayne Anne Phillips, from “Home”
I’m afraid Walter Cronkite has had it, says Mom. Roger Mudd always does the news now—how would you like to have a name like that? Walter used to do the conventions and a football game now and then. I mean he would sort of appear, on the sidelines. Didn’t he? But you never see him anymore. Lord. Something is going on.
Mom, I say. Maybe he’s just resting. He must have made a lot of money by now. Maybe he’s tired of talking about elections and mine disasters and the collapse of the franc. Maybe he’s in love with a young girl.
He’s not the type, says my mother. You can tell THAT much. No, she says, I’m afraid it’s cancer.
My mother has her suspicions. She ponders. I have been home with her for two months. I ran out of money and I wasn’t in love, so I have come home to my mother. She is an educational administrator. All winter long after work she watches television and knits afghans.
Come home, she said. Save money.
I can’t possibly do it, I said. Jesus, I’m twenty-three years old.
Don’t be silly, she said. And don’t use profanity.
4. Margaret Atwood, from Surfacing
I can’t believe I’m on this road again, twisting along past the lake where the white birches are dying, the disease is spreading up from the south, and I notice they now have seaplanes for hire. But this is still near the city limits; we didn’t go through, it’s swelled enough to have a bypass, that’s success.
I never thought of it as a city but as the last or first outpost depending on which way we were going, an accumulation of sheds and boxes and one main street with a movie theater, the itz, the oyal, red R burned out, and two restaurants which served identical gray hamburger steaks plastered with mud gravy and canned peas, watery and pallid as fisheyes, and French fries bleary with lard. Order a poached egg, my mother said, you can tell if it’s fresh by the edges.
5. Dickens, David Copperfield
Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o’clock at night. It was remarked that the clock began to strike, and I began to cry, simultaneously.
In consideration of the day and hour of my birth, it was declared by the nurse, and by some sage women in the neighborhood, who had taken a lively interest in me several months before there was any possibility of our becoming personally acquainted, first, that I was destined to be unlucky in life; and secondly, that I was privileged to see ghosts and spirits—both these gifts inevitably attaching, as they believed, to all unlucky infants, of either gender, born towards the small hours on a Friday night.
6. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them. They’re quite touchy about anything like that, especially my father. They’re nice and all—I’m not saying that—but they’re also touchy as hell. Besides, I’m not going to tell you my whole goddam autobiography or anything.
Phonological Rules for English 270
There are quite a number of phonological rules in English—rules which specify the requisite conditions for modifying phonemic structures.
Some are obligatory, like that of substituting allophones for the relevant phoneme in appropriate places—like the replacing of /t/ with [tʰ] at the beginning of words or stressed syllables, or with [t] in unstressed locations, or [ɾ] when located between a preceding stressed vowel and a following unstressed vowel (thus /lɪ'tɅl/ becomes [lɪ'ɾǝl]). We have used the aspirated stops and the alveolar flap as our examples here. There are others, but in this class we will limit ourselves to those I have just described and the following:
1. Nasalization: vowels that precede nasal consonants are themselves nasalized. Thus /ænd/ becomes [æ͂nd].
2. Assimilation: given any two sounds in sequence, the first may be modified such that it is more similar to the second. Thus /hæv tu/ can become [hæf tʰǝ]. (This is not required, but we very often do it anyway.)
3. Deletion: phonemes that speakers deem redundant can be dropped altogether. Thus /want tu/ can become [wa͂nǝ]. (This, too, is not required, but we very often do it anyway.)
4. The last rule we discussed was what we called the "destressing rule," or "vowel reduction rule," which would say that any unstressed vowels that are not required for phonemic clarity will tend to move towards schwa. Thus "accommodate," or /ækam'odet/ becomes [ǝka͂m'ǝdet], where the first and third vowels are in unstressed syllables, and both are replaced in pronunciation by schwas.
At the same time, you can see that the second vowel remains the same because it is in a stressed syllable, and the final vowel remains the same, too, but this is because it is in a word-final syllable, where often (though not always) we want to preserve the full vowel for phonemic clarity.
Other words where the final vowel retains its full vowel value are "reality" and "finally." In these two it is the need to preserve our understanding that "ity" is a derivational affix, turning a stem like "real" into a new noun: real-ity, or, as in "finally," where "-ly" is a derivational affix that turns the adjective "final" into an adverb. In both cases it is important for clarity of understanding that the listener hear that final affix.
It is important to note that it is precisely this "destressing rule" (aka "vowel-reduction rule") that makes so many polysyllabic words in English hard to spell. When syllables are unstressed and become schwas, they all sound alike, and it is hard to know from one's pronunication of the word whether the underlying phonemic vowel is spelled a, i, e, o, u, or even y. In this English is unusual—continental languages like German, Spanish and Italian have much more accurate spelling systems; even French, which has a number of spellings which surprise ([o], for example, can be spelled either with an "o," an "au," or even with "eau"!), still has a more predictable relationship between spelling and pronunciation than does English.
7. What Grammar Is and What Grammar Isn't—
8. Metaphor: the Jewel of any Language
Part 1: Literary Metaphor
A metaphor is a use of language which offers a comparison asserting a similarity between two apparently dissimilar things. Sometimes these comparisons are made explicit by the use of “like” or “as” (“my love is like a rose”), sometimes, they are implicit because just asserted directly without either “like” or “as” (“the old man’s heirs were wolves”), and sometimes they are submerged—which means more or less buried within language (to say “Hermione attacked her sandwich” is to compare eating with warfare, though only in an indirect, half-hidden way). Explicit comparisons with “like” or “as” are usually called “similes;” many people use the word “metaphor” only for implicit comparisons. What’s important here is to see that they work by the same basic mechanism—implicit comparisons are just a little harder to notice happening than are explicit comparisons.
All languages use metaphor, and of necessity, and this is because metaphorical comparisons are the natural consequence of the limitations of our vocabularies. Many world languages have immense numbers of words in them—in 2010 English was estimated to have over a million words. But even with that many words, English speakers don’t have nearly enough vocabulary for all the things we would like to say, and wouldn’t even if we knew all of those one million words—which no one actually does (the average speaker of English knows anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 words). Our ordinary language for feelings, intuitions, or new ideas often seems either inexact or lacking in emotional power or non-existent, so we constantly use comparisons to adjust our ordinary speech. “That cat took off fast!” thus becomes “That cat took off like his tail was on fire (or like a rocket, or like a bat out of hell)!” Those would each be explicit comparisons; alternatively we might have said: “That cat was a rocket!” (an implicit comparison) or “That cat rocketed out the door!”—where the metaphor would be submerged, but no less a comparison.
Using a metaphor about metaphor, then, we could call metaphor the “crescent wrench of language,” in that it allows us to adjust our ordinary and literal language to situations for which we may not think we have just the right “normal” words. So while used most obviously in poems and stories (as Shakespeare does in his well-known sonnet beginning: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely, and more temperate”), they actually also occur very frequently in ordinary speech. Indeed, they are so ordinary that we very often use them without even realizing we’re doing so (he’s as cute as a bug! she definitely hit the wall). But because metaphors are among a language’s most frequently used tools, they present a number of complicated issues, the first of which concerns how they actually work.
To see how metaphors work, first think of them in terms of what we can call “the semantic logic of comparison.” Whenever you say A is like B, you ought also to be able—provided it is a well-formed comparison—to add some sort of adverbial expression (often termed the “grounds” of the comparison) that would specify the way you think they are alike. Thus, “My love is like a rose” is a comparison of a love to a rose, and you could add something like “in that s/he is sweet, soft, and beautiful” in order to specify the grounds upon which your comparison is based.
What makes metaphor a particularly powerful form of expression is that while the logic of comparison demands that we understand the expression by understanding some way in which a likeness exists between the thing talked about (in this case “my love”—traditionally called the metaphor’s “tenor”) and the thing the tenor is compared to (in this case “a rose”—traditionally called the “vehicle”), very often, especially in literary contexts, the adverbial phrase that would define the way in which a vehicle is like its tenor is omitted. Instead, the expression’s interpretation is left up to its readers/hearers to supply. To be sure, as speakers of a language we are usually capable of doing just that—we supply our best guess as to what the likely grounds for comparison would be. But when we first see the comparison, it comes in a condensed form that we need to unpack in order to understand.
Consider the comparison that opens Shakespeare’s 73rd sonnet:
Here Shakespeare’s speaker compares his aging self (the metaphor’s tenor) to the autumn of the year (the metaphor’s vehicle). But while the speaker gives you details about autumn, he doesn’t actually explain how they are like him. That doesn’t, however, mean we can’t understand his thought. For the details he gives us suggest things we know about how old age is like autumn: if trees lose leaves as the year grows old, so human beings lose hair, and if trees begin to look thin and bare as their leaves fall, so, too, do older people begin to look gaunt and less full. And if wind can cause bare limbs to shake, so, too, can the weaknesses and palsies of old age.
So we could rephrase the condensed form in which Shakespeare writes by expanding his metaphor with one or more “in that”-clause(s) that fill out the metaphor’s comparison by providing the grounds by means of which it could be understood. Thus in this metaphor we could fill in what is missing with something like: “you may see me as someone whose age is like autumn in that my signs of age are like a tree's signs of going dormant:
When we expand a condensed metaphor in this way we can say that we are "interpreting" the metaphor—we are supplying what has been left out. But because we are in effect proposing an interpretation for these lines, we can also say we are participating in a kind of "argument." By this we mean that when we add explanation for a metaphor, we are actually making a hypothesis which someone else might not agree with.
As an illustration, consider the simple metaphors of name-calling. Kid 1 says to kid 2, “You’re such a dodo,” where “dodo” is the name of an extinct bird proverbially believed to have been stupid and incompetent (and hence extinct). Often that comparison (“The person opposite me is like that extinct bird who was stupid and incompetent ”) can indicate anger or hatred and function as an insult. But between very good friends, the same expression can actually mean the opposite: "I like you, and I like you enough that I can playfully insult you, so that my insult functions more as a form of praise." Which of these two meanings the expression might have in a particular case could well be subject to argument.
Similarly, lover’s terms often have this form of comparison. “You are my baby” is metaphorical because (when spoken to someone over the age of 3 or 4) in one sense means I love you as I would love a baby: completely, unconditionally, and intimately. Or, in other circumstances, it could mean: You are a baby in that I feel as though I have to mother you because you are unable to take care of yourself. You may be something I must have around, but it’s a lot of work and aggravation to do so! Why can’t you grow up?! (A decision about which of these two interpretation applies might be the cause of the lovers’ quarrel that follows upon one’s actually having said this!)
(For a deeper look at some of the complex uses of the semantic profiles of words a literary sensibility might think about, see the short Vimeo film that explains William Empson's famous Seven Types of Ambiguity, a book about the ways words can mean in more ways than one: Empson: http://vimeo.com/71992834.)
We’ve now talked about different forms of metaphor, and of how they tend to be understood, and of how they can be ambiguous enough to cause strife. These last might be examples of metaphors that (said with the wrong tone or in the wrong circumstances) fail. But they can also fail for other reasons. Let’s go back to “My love is a rose.” That is a pretty easy metaphor, mainly because we have seen so many times that it is a thought that anyone can understand.
But now consider the very similar looking metaphor “My cat is a dog.” Not everyone will find the meaning of this obvious. Indeed, it seems a pretty unclear way of saying something, since without any other help, hearers of “My cat is a dog” are unlikely to know how to proceed in understanding the proposed comparison at all! Since the comparison is implicit (there is no “like” used), we may not even think it IS a comparison! Does the speaker mean she actually has no cat, but a dog instead? Or does she simply mean she does have a cat but that it is a terrible cat? (as in the expression “what a dog of a meal”).
In such cases of indecision a hearer may ask the speaker for the relevant grounds for comparison: “I don’t get it—how is your cat like a dog?” At which point the speaker might add an explicit in that-clause: well, she’s like a dog in that she waits at the window for me to come home in the evening. Or the speaker might even clarify her comparison by rephrasing the sentence to explain more fully: “My cat sits in the window at night, dog-like, patiently waiting the sound of my car in the drive.” There she would have given you both tenor and vehicle, along with the grounds that explain how, exactly, the comparison is to be taken. (You may still think it is not a very good comparison—or at least, not good enough to qualify as successful in the form “My cat is a dog.”)
Summary: Metaphors are comparisons in which two non-identical, dissimilar things are compared in order to focus on one or more ways in which they are alike in spite of their overall difference. Sometimes the ways in which they are alike is fully spelled out, but very often the way in which the two things are alike is not articulated. This creates what is in effect a compression or condensation of meaning—which in the hands of a skilled poet offers readers an opportunity to explore the semantic logic of that poet’s language in an effort to find satisfying significations. But while such comparisons are often effective modes of communicating, they are also sometimes ambiguous and potentially confusing.
Now all we have to do is explain what linguistics can tell us about how words mean and how we can find difference in similarity, and similarity in difference. This takes us to “Semantics,” or the study of how words mean.
The Semantics of Metaphor
Linguists have often talked about metaphor in terms of semantic features. You can read in the semantics chapter of any introduction to Linguistics about "lexical fields" as a way of grouping various words in terms of the similarities of the entities they refer to. Thus dogs, cats, elephants, human beings, and ducks are all members of the lexical field of "animals," while broccoli, mustard, grapes and lettuce are all members of the lexical field of "edible things."
To organize the relations between the lexical fields of reference of different words linguists have often resorted to what they have called "semantic" features. This is a way to categorize any given word in terms of the kinds of things it can refer to, and it includes such things as human and non-human, animate and non-animate, concrete (as in something actually visible, even touchable) and abstract (or, "not-concrete").
These are binary categories, which means they demarcate exactly the class of those things that have the named quality, and exclude everything else. Thus, you and I are members of the [+human] class; we are also [+concrete] and [+animate] (where the brackets indicate we are using these words to designate semantic features). And we can distinguish ourselves from our pets by noting that while our pet dogs and cats and fish are like us in being marked [+animate], we are differentiated from them in that they are not human—which makes them [-human]. (The joke of a “pet rock” is precisely that the word “pet” entails [+animate] while a “rock” would be marked as [-animate]. The contradiction thus creates a semantic joke--and a marketing success!)
Linguists have proposed lots of semantic features, some with very large classes like [+/- human], [+/- animate], [+/- female], and these can be hierarchically arranged. Thus anything that is [+human] is necessarily [+animate], too. Similarly, anything that is [+female] is necessarily [+animate], but not necessarily [+human] (though many obviously are!).
The sorts of semantic features like these that govern large classes of entities can be called primary features, and they give a way to understand (among other things) certain sorts of syntactic constraints language users must follow when they string words together to make sense. Thus one can say: “The woman wrote an essay” or one can say “The elephant wrote an essay,” and both are syntactically correct. But the first of those two makes an easy sense, while the second requires some special maneuvering. Elephants can do many wonderful things, but writing isn’t among them, and that, in fact, is true for all the animals in the universe except human beings. Thus we can say that while “write” is itself neither animal, vegetable or mineral, still, because it can be used only in combination with entities that are marked [+human], it is also marked for [+human agent], meaning that semantically the word can only be used when the subject of the verb—the agent—is human.
That said, some of you will say that “The elephant wrote an essay” might actually be useable in a conversation, and you’d be right. It might be about Babar, the elephant character in the French children’s stories who did all sorts of human things, or it might be about real elephants but saying something about their acting in a way that wouldn’t literally be writing, but could still be called that because it bears a certain likeness to it. Maybe the elephant was using her trunk to push around the sand in front of her, and the result was such that you might say: “That elephant’s trunk has moved so much sand that she’s written an epic with it!” In that case, though, you have actually clarified the sentence to show that you are speaking metaphorically, not literally. As explained above, you could then make your metaphor fully explicit with an in that-clause: What the elephant has done in the sand is like writing in that she has used her trunk like a pen to make designs in the sand that bear some resemblance to a series of words or hieroglyphs.
And as for the Babar example, the real solution to that quandary is to notice that Babar may “be” an elephant, but he is also a character in a story, and in that fiction he is marked [+human-like], and thus, pretending as we read that Babar can talk and write and wear suits, we understand easily whatever he does, whether it is marked [+human agent] or not. Babar isn’t after all a story about elephants in the wild, it’s a fantasy about elephants who are pretty much like humans, except with very big noses. In short, we are not to understand Babar as a "real" elephant, but as an elephant who is very like a human in terms of what he can and does do. So there is a mode of comparison going on: Babar is like a Human, in that he can talk, write, and live in houses.
So what? The thing that makes a reader of Babar go into metaphor-reading mode is an automatic unconscious perception on that reader's part of a mismatch of primary features. Elephants are marked [–human], but the verb “write” (or "talk") is marked [+human agent]. So when we read the sentence and notice the mismatch we either instantly think that the sentence makes no sense at all (a literal reading), or we go into our metaphorical reading mode—something all speakers of human languages learn to do—and read the story as based upon an implicit comparison (what we call a figurative, or metaphoric, reading).
For a quite different example, think of what happens in Shakespeare’s King Lear when Gloucester remarks early in Act 4 that before he jumped off the cliff in an effort to kill himself he had been in such despair as to “think a man a worm.” With this phrase Gloucester makes a comparison between human beings and worms, but his expression is condensed because he doesn’t explain anything about the ways in which he thinks these two entities are alike. He assumes his listeners will fill in that missing part, expanding the bare terms of the metaphor to include the ways in which the likeness makes sense. As we noted in Section 1, this constitutes a condensation of meaning by leaving out the in that-clauses that would justify the comparison.
But what is interesting about the metaphor is that leaving those details out does not cause the comparison to become un-understandable. Instead it becomes dependent on an audience member's capacity to “read into” what Gloucester says by searching out from what we know of worms the semantic features that could apply to human beings so as to justify such a comparison—"low," "cold-blooded," "fish bait," "slimy"—all features that give voice to the despair into which he has fallen about the vile and evil things that human beings (including, in particular, he himself [he thinks at this point that he has caused the death of his son Edgar]) will do to each other.
The power of literary condensations of this sort is that the expanding we must do if the metaphor is to be understood is left to our linguistic imaginations, and often, by searching our minds for possible features that could supply in that-clauses we can expand metaphorical expressions in provocative ways. Here Gloucester says only that he used to think man was worm-like, and might mean only that humanity is worm-like in that it is morally low, mindless or crawling. But maybe human beings are also to be understood as worm-like in a visceral way: they are repulsive to the touch, things no one would want to handle, and thus things no sane person could possible love.
The general point here isn’t simply that every literary metaphor has a multiplicity of meanings, but rather that many such metaphors have a wide range of potential implication, much or all of it condensed so as to be unspoken and functioning only by the kind of interpretive indirection I have described here. As a result, once we’ve noticed a metaphor (“man is a worm”), as readers we have an opportunity to explore the logic of how the tenor and vehicle of the metaphor are, and are not, like each other, and to ask about the ways in which the comparison’s incompleteness offers perspectives of one kind or another on the speaker's situation.
But let’s return to the way linguists would use semantic feature analysis to clarify just HOW it is that we construct these meanings. Man is but a lowly worm, Gloucester says, but that is physically impossible and semantically impossible, too, at least as a literal expression, since “man” is marked [+human], and “worm” is marked [–human]. But the fact of this “literally” impossible mismatch is exactly what sends our minds into automatic search routines.
So what does all that mean? It means that when we cannot interpret something literally, we search our internal semantic inventory for ways in which the expression in question could make sense as a comparison. So although the verb here in a comparison is often “is,” and thus suggests identity, it can only make sense if we read it as “is like.” That leads us to search our semantic knowledge of (say) “worm” and “man,” and look for features of the vehicle (“worm”) that can be used as what might be called “semantic filters” for our understanding of the tenor (“man”). We find “lowly,” “slimy,” and “cold” among the features of the vehicle’s semantic profile, and since they seem appropriate as ways of understanding Gloucester’s meaning, we can assert those features as the ones that should guide our understanding of what would otherwise be a meaningless contradiction.
Understanding metaphors, then, requires that we learn to bring to consciousness what our minds know about semantic features. So let's consider what we human beings know about the way the semantics of words works.
We can actually think of three different kinds of semantic features: primary, secondary, and tertiary.
Primary features (like [+abstract (vs concrete), +living, +human, +animal, +vegetable, +/-female, +locomote, +cause, +growing/inchoative and quite a few others]) govern large classes of words. Thus the word cat is marked for: [+animal], [-human], [+/-female]—which means cats are animals, but not human, and can be either male or female. In this they are unlike stones, which though [-abstract] like cats and all other objects in the world, are [-animal]. Stones are also [-capable of living] and therefore also neither [+female] or [-female].
Primary features give a fairly general way of seeing similarities and differences across large classes of words and are often linked to syntactic function as well. Thus the verb “to write” is marked [+human agent] because only human beings can write—at least in a literal sense. Similarly, walk would be marked [+animal agent], even if someone could say an unmoored washing machine “walked” across the garage floor (as mine has done), but that would be a metaphorical use of the word “walk” and would be a kind of witty comparison of a washer which would normally never move to one that, unmoored from its fasteners, did the surprising thing of acting like an animate object and (seemed) to move itself across the room.
Secondary features: Less general than primary features, secondary features then extend a word's basic meaning skeleton by adding things we know more specific to given entities. In the case of cats we could add several secondary characteristics: four-legged, whiskered, long-tailed, purring and meowing, pointy ears, domesticatable, capable of hunting small animals and insects, more or less omnivorous, and having sharp, retractile claws. (You can, no doubt think of other features—e.g., has fur, is a big self-groomer, normally lives to 15 or so). Those necessary secondary features would hold for all cats generally (the Manx would need to be dealt with as an exception to the [+tail] feature), but (as I say above) with significantly less general scope with respect to all the other concepts and objects in the world than primary features have. [These features, too, can be linked to syntactic function, but in far fewer constructions. “The dog meowed” is a category contradiction, since “meow” is marked [+feline], and a dog would not be marked with that feature.]
Tertiary features are those significances that come along with a word like cat but which are not necessarily true of any or of all cats, but are nevertheless contained in our cultural knowledges about them. Thus it is said often that cats can see in the dark, although that is actually not true. They can indeed see in lower light than we can, but not in the dark. Still, because it has been said a lot, it has become part of what we “know” (or think we know!) about cats. Similarly it is said of cats that they always land on their feet. This, too, is not actually true (I have paid vet bills for a cat who did not land on his feet when he fell from a height of some ten feet), though they are on the whole pretty agile. Other tertiary features of cats include stand-offishness, nap-happy-ness, silent or sneaky walker, sexual profligacy, is easily scared, is a creature of the night, hangs out with witches, and may be unlucky. Many of these features MAY be true of any given cat, but none are necessary to cats as a whole. (Most of my cats, for example, have gone to sleep early and not gotten up before morning.)
So, to illustrate now with an actual metaphor, when someone says “I think there is a new cat-burglar in the neighborhood,” we first recognize that “cat-burglar” is an implicit and condensed comparison (this particular burglar is like a cat somehow, but how is unspecified) and we then go on to construct an understanding of how that comparison makes sense by searching through our mental inventory of things-we-know-about-cats that would fit this conversational context. In this case, especially when we explore those tertiary features we’ve been learning all our lives long, we can expand this metaphor by proposing that this is a burglar who, like a cat (according to our culture’s general semantic store of information about cats), works stealthily and by night.
What we would not expect is that the cat-burglar in question had retractile claws or fur. Indeed, we'd be pretty surprised if the burglar showed up with either of those features. (Note, again, that the two features of stealthily and by night are both tertiary features; neither is necessary to being a cat, but both are associated with cats and certainly work well here to explain the grounds that support the implicit comparison of a burglar to a cat.)
Concepts to know from all of this: metaphor, simile, tenor, vehicle, grounds (which can be made explicit in "that-clauses"), semantic features (primary, secondary, tertiary), condensation/compression.
part 2: Conceptual Metaphor
Literary metaphors are not the only metaphors in language, even though that has been the traditional understanding of them. In fact, metaphor is a very common occurrence in speech and writing of all sorts. Indeed, we live in a world thick with figurative comparisons, and most of them pass us by without our even noticing that they are metaphors. Consider the way we talk about arguments. Here is a paragraph about argument:
The language of that paragraph is not unusual, but it is pretty much all based on a single metaphor: engaging in arguments is like engaging in war.
Commenting on the way we talk about arguments as if they were wars, George Lakoff writes:
He then goes on to explain:
(George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By (1980), p.124)
Now, the interesting question is not whether this “understanding and experiencing one thing in terms of another” happens at all (it obviously does); rather, it is whether the use of war as metaphor in cases like this changes or limits or controls what we actually do when we argue. Lakoff, perhaps the inventor of the field of metaphor study in linguistics, thinks the answer to that question is unequivocally YES.
We could think about this better, perhaps, with a contrastive example. Suppose we changed the metaphor of argument from war to, say, conversation. Here instead of talking about “winning” or “losing” an argument you might instead look to “understanding” and “agreeing.” In that metaphorical context, instead of attacking or undermining your opponent’s arguments, you’d be offering ideas, explaining why you believe something, giving support to your explanations, engaging with others in dialogue about whether and how they might not agree, looking to find ways to bridge differences. This kind of argument, you might think, would be a whole lot less stressful than an argument whose participants worked within the language of war.
Can we define the difference that shift of metaphor makes? Those who think about conceptual metaphor would suggest it makes a huge difference. Thinking of argument as war reinforces notions of force and winning at any cost; it promotes an ethos of competition, winning and losing, a kind of verbal violence which may actually lead a lot of people to avoid engaging in it altogether. Argument as conversation, by contrast, is far less threatening either physically or emotionally to its participants. In conversation one can in fact (though in reality we don’t always manage this) agree or disagree without recrimination or a sense of loss or self-endangerment. Preferring the metaphor of argument as conversation would also allow “face” (or personal pride) to be handled differently. As in normal life, conversational argument would allow for conventions of mutual respect and face-saving as part of what makes the process work, and not as a sign of weakness.
If any of that is true, it leads to another question: if argument as conversation can in fact take place, and if most of us would prefer that form of argument to a more agonistic mode, why is argument so often NOT like a conversation? Why does argument so often turn into ego vs. ego? Is it the nature of argument itself, or is it the metaphorical frame within which it is set?
These considerations seem fairly uncontroversial. Others are not. Thus the government declares a war on drugs, and we may not notice that that declaration, too, is a metaphor. For what it has us really saying is that we will treat drugs as if they were an enemy to be resisted by all extraordinary means (as we do enemies in a war), and we will attack drug runners and peddlers as if they were soldiers in the druggy army. To use "the war on drugs" instead of something more literal—like "we are going to enforce our drug laws fully and effectively"—seems to many to make us sound more serious, more forceful, and perhaps even, since Americans don’t like to think we ever have or ever could lose a war, already half successful just for having declared one!
So from a president’s point of view to use the war metaphor here makes sense. But does it also make sense in terms of what we actually do? Or in terms of what our actual goals for a national policy with respect to drugs might be? Some would argue that to use a metaphor like war restricts our vision and our realm of possible actions, and converts ordinary human beings (some of whom you may know—indeed, one of whom might be someone in this very class) into “enemies.” In fighting "the War on Drugs," such critics would argue, we are thus short on treatment, long on imprisonment, short on clarity about what elements of drug use are abhorrent and socially destructive and long on general and blanket condemnations that many think sweep away the good along with the bad.
We have as a nation similarly declared a “War on Terror.” Maybe that is just the right metaphor—certainly the Bush administration liked it, and the Obama administration has at the very least not very clearly rejected it.
But there are again those who say that the war metaphor here, too, obscures our full vision and, in consequence, our very conceptualization of appropriate ways to respond. If it’s a war, it makes sense to use bombs and drones and so on. And indeed, maybe it makes sense to do that whether we call it a “War on Terror” or not. But, as we noted above with the "War on Drugs," the semantic features of "war" tend to license all sorts of actions that civilized nations reject during peacetime, and this in turn has given rise to the notion that conducting a "war" on terror all around the globe has in fact been a way of authorizing actions that Americans, and American law, would normally reject, while at the same time screening out, as inappropriate to war, other actions which might (critics would maintain) result in better outcomes than the dropping of bombs. Critics would say that calling this a "war" helps mask what is an extraordinarily expensive enterprise that wreaks death and destruction even when carried out as humanely as possible. If you are at war, they would argue, you are not working as effectively as you might for political solutions, or for winning hearts and minds with well- targeted foreign aid, infrastructure projects and the like.
Please understand. I’m not here taking a side in this conversation.
Rather, I only point out that we deploy thought-structuring metaphors in many different and
very important ways in all sorts of contexts and all sorts of places,
and I thus suggest that you as citizens as well as students will
be better served in the long run if you can come to see how these hidden
conceptual metaphors can structure thinking. When the metaphors around
us do impose ways of thinking about many things, wouldn’t
we all want to be able to free ourselves from their over-all conceptual
(adapted from George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By (1980), pp.124-34)
Here is a link to a metaphor that has gone off the tracks—can you explain the conceptual basis for the metaphor and why people have objected?
How sweet and lovely dost thou make the shame
The English 270 Portfolio
The portfolio for this class is like many other portfolios: it is a collection and display of the work you have done, together with a reflective essay describing your experience in the course. This project thus offers you a chance to review your quarter's work, as well as to put that work into some kind of narrative perspective. Your portfolio should include:
1) A detailed listing of the contents of the Portfolio.
2) All of the exercises/writing you have done for this class over the course of the quarter. (Photocopies of exercises you've done in notebooks are ok.)
3) A two to three page Self-Reflective Essay.
The Self-Reflective essay should be about your experience in this class. You should prepare for it by reviewing your work for the quarter, but the actual essay may take a number of forms. It may, for example, discuss the nature of the learning you have done this quarter, describing what you take to be your work's strengths, how those strengths may have changed over the course of the term, and anything you think you still might be able to improve. Or it may be a narrative of your experience in this course: why you took it, what problems it presented to you as it progressed, and what you did to address them. Or it may discuss how your attitudes about language have developed, changed, or not changed during the quarter: what were you thinking when you came in, and how has that changed in the ten weeks since?
However you choose to set it out, the object of the exercise is to have you review your experience in the course, to think about that experience, and to do something towards evaluating and making sense of it.
The portfolio counts for 60 points of the course grade; I will evaluate the daily assignments included in the Portfolio on the basis of completeness and quality of involvement (30 points total). The essay I'll evaluate on the basis of responsiveness and thoughtfulness as follows (30 points total):
The Portfolio should be submitted in a large mailing envelope. Its
presentation should be neat, ordered, and careful. To have it returned,
be sure to address it and to provide postage sufficient for the thirty
pages or so you will have submitted.
The Declaration of Independence (1776)
Thomas Jefferson (first two paragraphs)
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
Six Criteria for Writing in this Class
Central Purpose: Are the reasons for your writing clear, appropriate, and fully responsive to the prompt?
Details: Are the words and ideas used within the assignment relevant and effective in developing and supporting the paper’s central purpose?
Organization: Can your reader easily follow and understand your paper from beginning to end? Are there writing elements, like transitions and topic sentences, which maintain a coherent flow?
Fullness: Do you do enough to carry your case? Is the document substantial enough to leave your reader believing that you know what you are talking about?
Fluency: How fluid, sophisticated, and effective is your writing at the sentence and paragraph level? Are sentences and word choices varied and clear?
Presentation: Is your paper well-edited and spell-checked? Have you reviewed your verb tense/agreement, punctuation, and other grammatical elements? Have you followed all guidelines pertaining to formatting, citation standards, and other rules of appearance as they are described in the course syllabus?
On papers for this class you'll find in addition to comments a set of six numbers, like:
3 1 2 3 4 2
These numbers correspond to each of the criteria described above in "Six Criteria for Writing in This Class." All count equally towards the final grade.
The point of these numbers is to give you a quick mini-grade on each of the criteria I use to score papers. You can get from 1 (not very good at all) up to 6 (as good as it gets) in each category. The number represents my judgment about how well your paper has done on that one category, as measured against both my general sense of how well 100-level students ought to perform, and the performances of other students in the class. As I assign them, I have in mind the following general sense of what they mean:
There is no exact relationship between these numbers and the final score (I don't simply add them up), but there is a very strong correlation. Six 6's, for example, would undoubtedly earn full credit. Additionally, I count each of the final two criteria at half value since they are for me the least important dimensions of most written work. That means that a perfect score would equal 30 points.