Keynote speakers


Communication: Gerard J. Steen (VU University Amsterdam, Netherlands)

Science: Silvano Tagliagambe (University of Cagliari, Italy) with Luca Guzzardi (University of Pavia, Italy)

Education: Graham Low (University of York, UK)




Gerard J. Steen, VU University Amsterdam, Metaphor Lab (Netherland)

Attention to metaphor

Over the past decade researchers of metaphor have debated the question whether and if so how metaphor can be used deliberately (e.g., Gibbs, 2011a, b; Steen, 2011a; Deignan, 2011; Müller, 2011). One of the crucial difficulties in this debate has been the conflation between deliberate metaphor use and conscious metaphorical cognition (cf. Steen, 2011a, 2013). In this talk I will argue that there is yet another conflation, between consciousness and attention (as I believe is more generally illustrated by Chafe’s [1994] treatment of consciousness in discourse). I propose that the distinct notion of attention holds the key to developing a new model for metaphor that can accommodate a range of central and new questions in metaphor studies, including the paradox of metaphor that suggests that most metaphor may not be processed metaphorically (Steen, 2008).

Although the cognitive function of attention in language processing has been amply discussed by for instance Talmy (2000), I propose that a new model for metaphor is best developed by connecting attention in language use to the psychology of discourse processing (e.g. MacNamara and Magliano, 2009), an area of study which I think has not been adequately incorporated in metaphor studies. My preference for adopting this approach is based on the fact that there is one influential model in the psychology of discourse processing, Van Dijk and Kintsch (1983; cf. Kintsch 1998; Van Dijk 2008), that allows for a generally acceptable but precise analysis of all types of metaphor in discourse (Steen, 2009, 2011b). Exploring this approach raises new questions about the way words, concepts, and referents are related to each other in various kinds of metaphor, affecting the way metaphors end up in our attention (cf. Sanford and Emmott, 2012). Another advantage of starting out from a discourse-psychological approach to metaphor in language use is that it naturally allows for developing a genre perspective on the question of metaphor variation (cf. Deignan, Littlemore, and Semino, 2013). Exploring this particular perspective raises new questions about the way genre knowledge and expectations constrain deliberateness, consciousness, and attention to metaphor in communication

My overall aim in this talk is therefore to sketch out a coherent view of a new model for metaphor in language use that is more tightly motivated by discourse-psychological research than is currently the case. At the same time this discourse-psychological model does not prevent maintaining productive relations with other approaches to metaphor in language use, such as linguistic and social-scientific ones—on the contrary, it enables the investigation of all sorts of fundamental and applied issues by different disciplines from a single and explicit theoretical standpoint.



Chafe, W. (1994). Discourse, consciousness, and time. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Deignan, A. (2011). Deliberateness is not unique to metaphor: A response to Gibbs. Metaphor and the Social World 1(1), 57-60.

Deignan, A., Littlemore, J. and Semino, E. (2013). Metaphor, genre and register. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gibbs, R.W., jr. (2011a). Is ‘deliberate’ metaphor really deliberate? Metaphor and the Social World 1(1), 26-52.

Gibbs, R.W., jr. (2011b). Advancing the debate on deliberate metaphor. Metaphor and the Social World 1(1), 67-69.

Kintsch, W. (1998). Comprehension: A paradigm for cognition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Macnamara, D. S., & Magliano, J. (2009). Toward a comprehensive model of comprehension. In B. Ross (ed.), The Psychology of Learning and Motivation Vol. 51 (pp. 297-384). Burlington: Academic Press.

Müller, C. (2011). Are ‘deliberate’ metaphors really deliberate? A question of human consciousness and action. Metaphor and the Social World 1(1), 61-66.

Sanford, A.J., and Emmott, C. (2012). Mind, brain and narrative. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Steen, G.J. (2008). The paradox of metaphor: Why we need a three-dimensional model for metaphor. Metaphor & Symbol 23(4), 213-241.

Steen, G.J. (2009). From linguistic form to conceptual structure in five steps: analyzing metaphor in poetry. In G. Brône & J. Vandaele (Eds.), Cognitive poetics: Goals, gains and gaps (pp. 197-226). Berlin/ New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Steen, G.J. (2011a). What does ‘really deliberate’ really mean? More thoughts on metaphor and consciousness. Metaphor and the Social World 1(1), 53-56.

Steen, G.J. (2011b). From three dimensions to five steps: The value of deliberate metaphor. 21, 83-110.

Steen, G.J. (2013). Deliberate metaphor affords conscious metaphorical cognition. Journal of Cognitive Semiotics 5:1-2, special issue on Conceptual Metaphor Theory: Thirty Years After, 179-197.

Talmy, L. (2000). Towards a cognitive semantics, vols. I and II. Cambridge: MIT press.

Van Dijk, T.A. (2008). Discourse and context: A sociocognitive approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Van Dijk, T.A., and W. Kintsch (1983). Strategies of discourse comprehension. New York: Academic Press.



Silvano Tagliagambe, University of Cagliari (Italy) with Luca Guzzardi, University of Pavia (Italy)

The classical physics as a metaphorical tool to evoke quantum world

In Quantum Theory two different logical frameworks seem to co-exist: microobjects behave according to classical logic in some situations; at the same time, they follow the rules of quantum logic. So one deals with a kind of “logical schizophrenia” that turns out to be somewhat mysterious and inexplicable. In particular, Quantum Mechanics cannot be adequately represented in the framework of classical semantics, which is basically analytical and compositional: the meaning of a compound expression is always determined by the meanings of its parts, whereas in QM global meaning generally determines some partial meanings. At the same time, classical meanings are non-ambiguous and sharp, whereas global meanings in QM are intrinsically vague, because they leave semantically undecided many relevant properties of the objects under investigation, and partial meanings might be (and generally speaking are) vaguer than global ones. In classical physics it would have no sense to summing up virtual states — different maximal pieces of information — in order to find out an actual state, because an actual state is just an element of the class of the possible states (or, speaking more generally, the set of all actual objects is a classical proper subset — with no fuzzy borders — of the class of all possible objects). By contrast, this is the case in QT, where an actual state is generally represented as a superposition of pure, virtual states. Suppose that C, C1, C2 correspond to three possible states of a quantum object. What might a sum having the form C = C1 + C2 mean? Basically, such a sum represents a kind of “interlacement” between real and potential properties of the object described by C. So for instance, in QM the final path of an electron can be written as a sum over all possible paths between the initial and final points (“Feynman’s paths integral formulation”, developed in 1948 by Richard Feynman on the basis of Dirac’s theory).

Nevertheless, given the lack of a specific phenomenological language in QM, classical tools can and are be used to capture some of the quantum-theoretical features of a given case. In order to illustrate his own approach, Feynman exposed in his Lectures on Physics (vol. III) this semi-classical situation: “To try to understand the quantum behavior of electrons, we shall compare and contrast their behavior, in a particular experimental setup, with the more familiar behavior of particles like bullets” shot by a machine gun. In doing so, Feynman arbitrarily idealizes some of the (classical) properties of the experimental setup in order to describe certain quantum-mechanical features. So for instance he notices that the machine gun he employs “is not a very good gun, in that it sprays the bullets (randomly) over a fairly large angular spread”; the bullets “are not real bullets, but are indestructible bullets — they cannot break in half”, and so on.

We will argue that, in doing so, Feynman provides an example of “analogical transfer of a vocabulary in another”, adopting classical linguistic tools as metaphors for quantum theoretical descriptions. On the one hand, this places Feynman in the wake of the remarkable tradition of the 19th-century model-based physics; on the other hand, it also points out a peculiar feature of using metaphors in science: they not only serve as descriptions of events, but may also suggest new insights and interpretations (as in the case of Feynman’s paths integral formulation). So metaphors may also have a heuristic import.



Graham Low, University of York (United Kindom)

Eliciting metaphor in education research: is it really worth the effort?

It is a commonplace to remark that we can’t fully access other people’s thoughts directly, so we might as well be indirect, but this does not guarantee per se that indirect methods like eliciting metaphors (EM) from learners, teachers or other stakeholders will be any better. Indeed, the effort frequently needed to obtain relevant data, plus the difficulty of analysing and interpreting the results, persuading the stakeholder to act in line with them and checking that they have done so, may make one question whether EM is really worth the effort.

And underlying the whole procedure are the higher-level questions:  just which educational phenomena can validly be investigated by EM? Which can be ‘changed’ by using EM? And why might one imagine in the first place that any given teacher or learner would necessarily have coherent, active symbolic worlds for ‘designing a timetable’ or ‘listening to L2 conversations about buying bread in France’?

Researching aspects of education via EM has a distinctly chequered history. Apart from researchers finding what they want to find, the problems tend to centre round minimal (or dubious) methodology reports, and one has some sympathy, as to date there have been few detailed educationally-relevant validation studies published. Researchers can thus have considerable difficulty knowing which techniques are likely to be suited to a particular educational context, and how to adapt and validate appropriately the one(s) they choose.

In this talk I want to present an overview, based on my own observations, as well as recent research studies by various colleagues around the world, of key questions that need asking if you are thinking of doing an EM study, what will help you design your study and analyse your data, what should you avoid, or be very careful about, and what exactly do we know we don’t know about EM (our ‘known unknowns’ as Donald Rumsfeld, 2002, so eloquently put it)?

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