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Metaphor and the Social World

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Metaphor -- Research, Metaphor in literature


Drawing on data from a series of informal conversations about public safety and police-community relations, we distinguish between a speaker’s generalized communicative intentions with respect to metaphor use and story-telling, based on what Chafe (1994, p. 145) calls “unifying ideas that persist in semiactive consciousness” and the spontaneous intentions that arise within the short-term focus or spotlight of consciousness and guide the production of actual utterances. Although speakers occasionally enter a conversation with a fixed intention to express an idea with a particular metaphor, tell a particular story in a particular style, or accomplish some other speech act, such as persuading or informing, more commonly in ordinary conversations speakers begin with only a generalized intention to engage in the social interaction, sometimes but not always accompanied by generalized intentions regarding a particular topic or a particular form of expression. We argue that these “unifying ideas” interact with the contents of the short-term focus or spotlight of consciousness to generate spontaneous communicative intentions that in turn guide the production of metaphors, stories, and other language segments. Often these spontaneous communicative intentions arise interactively in response to other participants’ utterances; sometimes they arise in response to unforeseen opportunities in the speaker’s own utterances. Consequently, in ordinary casual conversations the spontaneous communicative intentions behind metaphor, story-telling and humor are often formed ‘on the fly,’ in response to the dynamic social interaction, and sometimes as a result of collaboration with other participants.


© 2014 John Benjamins Publishing Company.


This is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Metaphor & the Social World. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published.



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