Respectus Philologicus
Respectus Philologicus

Respectus Philologicus eISSN 2335-2388
2020, vol. 37(42), pp.205–217 DOI:

Metaphor or not Metaphor: Is that the question?

Hans-Harry Drößiger
Vilnius University Kaunas Faculty
Research interests: translation studies, audiovisual translation studies, linguistics, cognitive linguistics, language philosophy

Introductory remarks

This review concerns the volume Metaphor Identification in Multiple Languages. MIPVU around the world, edited by Susan Nacey, Aletta G. Dorst, Tina Krennmayr and W. Gudrun Reijnierse, published by John Benjamins Publishing Company, Amsterdam & Philadelphia, 2019.


The entire volume consists of 15 chapters, a section called “About the authors” and an index. Chapter 1, 2 and 3 are of an introductory and encompassing character, displaying what MIP and MIPVU are by briefly presenting intentions, purpose and methodology of MIP and MIPVU. The chapters 4 through 14 take different languages as subjects to present and discuss questions and issues related to ways of how to apply the basic settings of MIPVU (and partially of MIP) to those languages, especially concerning the identification of linguistic metaphors. Chapter 15 serves to summarize the most recently documented status of MIPVU in metaphor identification research.

1. The chapters 1, 2 and 3

Chapter 1, entitled MIPVU in multiple languages, written by Susan Nacey, Aletta G. Dorst, Tina Krennmayr, W. Gudrun Reijnierse and Gerard J. Steen (representing universities and research institutions from Norway and The Netherlands) (2019: 1–21) outlines the theoretical and methodological foundations, purposes and aims of the Metaphor Identification Procedure (MIP) and Metaphor Identification Procedure of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (MIPVU) frameworks. Starting with a clichéd statement that metaphor research is still of high interest in the scholarly community, it becomes clear that the founders of MIP and MIPVU intend to go new ways in linguistic metaphor research by looking for a new, more up-to-date approach to metaphor identification considering chances of globalization and digitization. “The academic community is clearly taking metaphor identification seriously, in the goal of producing reliable, replicable, and theoretically valid metaphor research” (p. 1). All in all, “[t]he aim of this volume is to bring together adjustments and adaptations of MIP and MIPVU across a range of different languages and language families into one coherent overview” (p. 2). Later on, in this review, we will see that exactly the need to adjust and to adapt brings more questions to the fore than was, possibly, initially intended by the researchers presenting their insights and findings.

Although Chapter 1 sketches out history, methodology and intentions of MIP and MIPVU, some serious shortcomings and drawbacks can be noted, especially concerning two basic areas of any research to be conducted, first, the terminology used to create a theory and a methodology as well, and second, the history of research into metaphor. The former basic area finds its expression in the fact that in Chapter 1 the designations of the object of interest are manifold, as there are “metaphor” (p. 1), “linguistic metaphor” (p. 2), “a lexical unit … used metaphorically” (p. 6), “metaphorical words” (p. 6), “a word to be considered a metaphor” (p. 7), “words that have been … used in a metaphorical sense” (p. 7), “a particular word judged as a metaphor” (p. 7), “words … that are metaphor” (p. 8), “linguistic manifestations of metaphor” (p. 9), and finally “metaphor-related words (MRWs)” (p. 11), which shall be used as an instance of the intended identification procedure. Such a (for beginners, and maybe for experienced scholars, too) chaotic appearance of terms or term-like designations does not contribute to create a clear understanding of what the object of research interest might really be. That are different categories of linguistics phenomena can be covered by such a range of terms, starting with the word level and preliminarily ending with the broadest interpretation suggested by “linguistic manifestation of metaphor”, which will include all that a language may offer that can become a metaphor. At this point, distinctions of kinds of metaphors are not mentioned yet. A distinction such as “direct”, “indirect” and “implicit” metaphor may follow certain classical and recent theories of linguistic metaphor. Still, such labels as “deliberate” (p. 1) and “non-deliberate” (p. 12) metaphors should be treated as worthwhile discussion contenders because such categories might or might not touch the essence of language as being a deliberate phenomenon for mankind. The latter basic area seems to be underrated in this chapter. How can an identification procedure (such as a basic methodological conception) of metaphors work without being clear and precise in what sets the foundation for identification – the creation of metaphors?1 And, the elaborated and applied MIP and MIPVU models (or algorithms) are not the only ones in the history of research into metaphor.2 Although on p. 1 the authors mention some works published prior or parallel to MIP and MIPVU, it must be stated that all the volume’s authors’ outlook does not go beyond the limitations of their own theoretical and methodological framework. Maybe this is exactly the reason for the above-mentioned terminological chaos.

However, the still ongoing research aim is to find out “how metaphor in thought is manifested in metaphor in language use” (p. 11). To achieve reliable and replicable results in that regard, the research team applying MIP and MIPVU did well to focus not only on the large-scale languages (English, French, German), but instead inviting researchers from many more countries speaking languages that are sometimes underrated in the international scholars’ community. Considering many different languages, including ones representing other language families than the Indo-European, will definitely open up new ways to go and may encourage scholars from many more languages to join international research teams or communities.

Chapter 2 of the volume, entitled MIPVU: A manual for identifying metaphor-related words, written by Gerard J. Steen, Aletta G. Dorst, J. Berenike Herrmann, Anna A. Kaal, Tina Krennmayr and Tryntje Pasma (representing universities and research institutions from The Netherlands and Switzerland) (pp. 23–40) introduces guidelines for metaphor identification. The aim of this chapter is to present “the complete procedure for finding metaphor-related words which has been utilized in our research. The style is in the form of a set of instructions” (p. 23). So far so good, however, since the term “metaphor-related word” is still competing with other terms (see above), this algorithm, or as the authors put, the “set of instructions”, will for several reasons require several adjustments, modifications, or corrections simply because of: (1) The terminological chaos that has already been mentioned. (2) The linguistic instance the entire algorithm is referring to, which can be seen in the first and obviously basic “instruction” presented as: “Find metaphor-related words (MRWs) by examining the text on a word-by-word basis” (p. 23). The category “word”, which is one of the most contentious categories in linguistics for centuries, seems to be not that appropriate reference metaphors deserve. Additionally, under similar discussion amongst the scholars is the category “text”, accompanied by the more or less superficially praised methodological procedure “word-by-word”, resulting of the immanent difficulties to exactly outline what “word” is. This leads to (3), the different languages involved in the MIPVU project. Originally developed for the English language, the creators of MIP and MIPVU have to ask themselves how to put a descriptive algorithm (the “set of instructions”) of the English language as a blueprint for other languages being aware of the essential differences between languages. Interestingly, the authors entitled an entire section of their contribution “2.2 Deciding about words: Lexical units” (p. 24–30), in which the subsection “2.2.2 Exceptions” (p. 25–30) takes up considerable space. The question arises of what quality the intended algorithm might be, expecting quite a huge number of (possible) exceptions only in the English language. It seems to be that the creators of this “set of instructions” would not trust their own creation because they continuously talk about “deciding” in several headlines of sections and subsections and “a number of complications” (p. 34) identifying lexical units in English. And what shall we expect for other languages than English? Lists of “exceptions”, “complications” etc. instead of a reliable and practicable algorithm that fits to any language? The reason for all those irritating “instructions” is to take English first, to set it as a central and leading instance in language research.3

Chapter 3 has the title What the MIPVU protocol doesn’t tell you (even though it mostly does), written by Susan Nacey, Tina Krennmayr, Aletta G. Dorst and W. Gudrun Reijnierse (representing universities and research institutions from Norway and The Netherlands) (pp. 41–67) can be taken as an attempt to give the analysts of metaphors some additional guidelines by presenting some sort of workshop talk practicing MIPVU. It all starts with a kind of motto (a fictitious utterance by potential researchers into metaphor applying MIPVU) “Do I really have to do this for each and every word? But that will take forever!” (p. 41). If your understanding of metaphor (its creation, its essence and its linguistic use) is not as clear as metaphors deserve it, the answer would be “YES”. To get an answer “NO”, the authors outline some ideas to become aware of so-called “pitfalls”. All in all, such “pitfalls” are nothing else than “exceptions” and “complications” as discussed above concerning Chapter 2. Nevertheless, the greatest “pitfall” here is that the authors more or less obviously deny historical approaches to words, their meanings and the history of their use, which include the historical development of language communities, their customs of how to use their languages reflecting and expressing what the communities are about. A typical expression of this ahistorical understanding of metaphors is to suggest taking so-called “frequency-based” dictionaries, esp. the Macmillan Dictionary as the one of choice because the authors ask the question “How do I determine a ‘more basic meaning’ of a lexical unit?” (p. 47). The use of dictionaries is generally the best idea to get reliable information about words, their meanings, phonetic, grammatical, stylistic features as well as their referential potentials. However, asking for a “basic meaning” or even a “more basic meaning” of a word or a “lexical unit” implies several difficulties, which are not discussed here in Chapter 3. While in Chapter 2 the category “word” was emphasized, in Chapter 3 “lexical unit” stands in focus. “MIPVU uses the lexical unit as its unit of analysis. In most cases, the lexical unit is identical to an orthographic word” (p. 43). Yet, the problem of reliably knowing what “word” or “lexical unit” might be is not solved at all. On the contrary, the problem has been intensified by introducing a new category, the “orthographic word”. Assuming an identity between “lexical units” and “orthographic words” would definitely exclude all spoken language corpora and data bases from being researched. In the second part of Chapter 3, the authors give some advices for choosing an approach and data to conduct research into metaphor (pp. 59–63). The tenor of this part lies on “decisions” as the subsections 3.7 and 3.8 tell. Of course, decision-making exists everywhere, and so it shall be practiced in metaphor research. Since the authors have a methodological understanding of decision making in mind, we shall take a closer look at their suggestions. The first one is a distinction between quantitative and qualitative analysis. The former is broken down as questions like “How many? How often?”, the latter as questions like “How? When? Where? Why?” (p. 59). This kind of breakdown offers an entire research programme that is similar to that once created by Max Black (see endnote 2). Yet it seems not to be clear whether the MIPVU project would be able to accomplish that kind of an all-encompassing research plan because of struggling with unclear terminology, several types of sources (dictionaries) and because of the uniqueness of every language that might be involved in the project. The other “decision” concerns the question “Which (elements in) texts and why?” (pp. 60–63). Although in almost every chapter of the entire volume the idea of conceptual metaphor is not merely mentioned but taken as some kind of background against which all the linguistic metaphors can be projected, in Chapter 3 the authors intentionally exclude this background: “It is important to note that MIPVU only identifies metaphors on the linguistic level, not the conceptual level nor the cognitive level (production/processing). As such, the method does not make any claims about underlying conceptual metaphors” (p. 61 – italics on original). Fortunately, not all contributors to the volume follow this idea that strictly.

2. The chapters 4 through 14

Although all these chapters are entitled in the same way – Linguistic metaphor identification in XXXby only specifying the language XXX the researchers were working with, remarkable differences in approach, outlining language specific problems, point of view to the basics of MIPVU and discussion of results appear. Thus, in the following subsections, groups of languages will be briefly introduced by looking at these peculiarities. For this reason, aspects of MIPVU, which are under discussion, will be told in a cumulative way because in practicing MIPVU and theoretically reflecting its “set of instructions” for every language presented in this volume deficiencies and shortcoming are almost alike but language specific.

2.1 The chapters 4 through 7: Western Indo-European languages

Chapter 4 on French, written by W. Gudrun Reijnierse (University Nijmegen, The Netherlands), pp. 69–90, Chapter 5 on Dutch, written by Tryntje Pasma (University Amsterdam, The Netherlands), pp. 91–112, Chapter 6 on German, written by J. Berenike Herrmann, Karola Woll and Aletta G. Dorst (representing universities from Switzerland and The Netherlands), pp. 113–135, and Chapter 7 on three languages at once, Scandinavian (Danish, Swedish, Norwegian), written by Susan Nacey, Linda Greve and Marlene Johansson Falck (representing universities from Norway, Denmark and Sweden), pp. 137–158, represent the Western part of the Indo-European language family. However, together with the basic settings of MIPVU (see Chapter 1 through 3) on English, it can be said that for each single language specific issues of the MIPVU can be observed.

It is not surprising that dealing with French the first statements about the usefulness of MIPVU are thematized by criticizing: “None of these studies [MIPVU – H.-H. D.], however, specifically mention language-specific guidelines for applying the procedure to French” (p. 69). This kind of statement appears in one way or another in all the chapters concerning languages other than English. Told in the very beginning of this chapter, this statement makes it clear that the centered position of English for establishing such a “set of instructions” as in MIPVU is not the best or most appropriate choice because, as to be expected, too many adjustments, modifications, or adaptations are necessary to give respect to those other languages (p. 71). Especially for French, the author notes that more than one dictionary is needed. Interestingly, researching French texts for linguistic metaphors, bilingual dictionaries (French-English and English-French) come into play. This contradicts the guidelines of MIPVU, yet for French it makes sense as the author expresses. Other adjustments to MIPVU for French have to be done for syntactic structures of sentences, including a different understanding of parts of speech (PoS) compared to English and the unique role of prepositions and contracted forms in French.

Concerning Dutch, two sorts of issues are outlined, “Operational issues” (pp. 93–96) and “Linguistic issues” (pp. 96–102). The former issue especially focuses on data collection and reliance on dictionaries, while the latter puts to the fore complex words and fixed expressions. For the Dutch part of the MIPVU project, not a corpus-based dictionary like for English comes into play but a historically-based one. This is because a recent corpus-based dictionary for Dutch does not exist. Although from the perspective of the MIPVU, the historically-based Dutch dictionary does not contain precisely the kind of information a MIPVU approach wants to have, there is no alternative to this deficiency. In the end, the Dutch MIPVU project part did the job quite well because, of course, a historically-based dictionary may present all that is needed to work on the “set of instructions” within the MIPVU framework. As one of the major tasks in lexicography, a decision to say that a meaning numbered as “1” of a lemma is the basic meaning of a word is hard to make (cf. Haß-Zumkehr: 26). The latter kind of “issues” is directed to the peculiarities of Dutch in comparison to the English MIPVU. Since MIPVU tends to get digitized by using computer applications to create data bases, to tag parts of speech, word classes and even metaphors, in certain cases all this digitization will fail. “Thus, it is not possible to distinguish an SCV’s [Separable Complex Verb – H.-H. D.] particle from a preposition solely on the basis of part-of-speech tags” (p. 97). A consequence of this is what the project creators strictly wanted to avoid – the scholar’s intuition. “Intuition is hardly a reliable instrument, as it leads to inconsistency” (Chapter 1, p. 3).

In the introductory section, the authors state that the Germans’ “lexicography is … more morpheme-based than word-based when compared to English” (p. 113). Such a claim sounds strange because a distinction between morphemes and words, combined with a judgment which of these two would better fit in a dictionary, comes close to being ridiculous. The very well-known German researcher into lexicography, Ulrike Haß-Zumkehr, points out huge difficulties creating a dictionary, and there is no reason to emphasize one or another linguistic object as the favorite to give reason to sort a dictionary in a certain way (cf. Haß-Zumkehr 2001: 24). The focus of this chapter lies the major problems appearing in German that may require adjustments, modifications and adaptations of the MIPVU project. The range of all these real or supposed-to-be real problems in German that may have an impact on the MIPVU range from SCVs to prepositions. Unsurprisingly, a special emphasis is put on instances of word formation, which is indeed a special trait of German, however, not solely unique to it. Thus, in subsection the authors discuss some newly formed words from political discourse in German and how to make them fit for MIPVU. However, the question arises why the researchers do not apply well developed and properly working methods of analysis like the IC-analysis. As mentioned above, there is still a need for humans to step in when all the automated, algorithm grounded procedures and protocols fail or do not work satisfactorily: “It is up to the annotator to decide which ones are picked, and whether these have a high degree of generality, or specificity” (p. 124).

The Chapter 7 on Scandinavian languages (Danish, Swedish, Norwegian) is about “to develop a version of the identification procedure that is more or less identical for the three languages – that is a Scandinavian MIPVU” (p. 137). Putting the three Scandinavian languages together in one chapter is very clearly explained by the authors, grounding on a sociolinguistic approach. “The reasons for regarding Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish as different languages are political and historical rather than linguistic … Linguistically speaking, however, Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish are all language varieties of common northern Germanic heritage within a single Scandinavian dialect continuum” (p. 138). This unique situation amongst Indo-European languages makes it possible to develop common procedures of describing and analyzing those languages. Though, one idea is clearly pointed out that should be more broadly considered by colleagues working with MIPVU: the fuzziness of languages (p. 143) including their components, patterns, and rules. If such a fuzzy character of languages can be taken for granted, it is no wonder to presume that all forms of automatization, computerization of language description and analysis will sooner or later fail.

2.2. The chapters 8 through 10: Eastern Indo-European languages

Chapter 8 on Lithuanian, written by Justina Urbonaitė, Inesa Šeškauskienė and Jurga Cibulskienė (Vilnius University, Lithuania), pp. 159–181, Chapter 9 on Polish, written by Joanna Marhula and Maciej Rosiński (University of Warsaw, Poland), pp. 183–202, and Chapter 10 on Serbian, written by Ksenija Bogetić, Andrijana Broćić and Katarina Rasulić (University of Belgrade, Serbia), pp. 203–226, cover linguistic peculiarities appearing in Eastern Indo-European languages, which in that form and detail do not exist in the Western Indo-European languages.

For Lithuanian, the most important emphasis is given to the role of the analysts, who “have to rely on their intuition in the process of disambiguation” (p. 162) of word meanings and “trust native speaker’s intuition in verifying if the word in question is used in the sense that is absent in the dictionaries” (p. 163). A possible conclusion would be not to underestimate the analysts’ experiences and knowledge while conducting the MIPVU. Considering the unsatisfactory situation in Lithuanian concerning dictionaries, the question why not go the same way as the MIPVU colleagues of French, Uzbek and Sesotho, using bilingual dictionaries to create a reliable basis for making judgments about word meaning comes into life. Since the research into Lithuanian (and later in this volume into Polish, Serbian) shows definitely other aspects of metaphoricity that is the far more detailed morphology of those languages. Thus, inflectional patterns and forms, in which Lithuanian (as well as Polish and Serbian, see below) is rich, can do their part in becoming metaphors or at least representing instances of metaphoricity. So, the authors discuss “potential problems of identifying metaphoricity in Lithuanian generated by several grammatical cases and derivational morphology” (p. 165). The potentials of inflectional and derivational morphology of Lithuanian for becoming metaphors, opens a new sight to the shortcomings of the MIPVU protocol that was originally created focusing on the English language only. That means that “the protocol is unable to detect metaphoricity in the Lithuanian phrases expressing the same meaning encoded by the inessive locative case” (p. 172). If indeed morphological forms can carry metaphoricity, then the entire MIPVU project needs to get revised to make it fit for many more languages other than English (p. 177).

In a very unique way, the authors on Polish bring the aim of the entire MIPVU project to the point by stating that “the goal of the study was to localize the methodological problems occurring in the process of applying MIPVU to Polish and to provide solutions to these problems in the form of clear guidelines for annotators” (p. 184). To achieve this aim, English as an undoubtedly important language in the world should not be taken as a reference point for international language research programmes and projects. The most useful finding in the chapter about Polish is that the authors introduced two newly coined terms to better designate central terms in the MIPVU project: unitisation (pp. 185–187) and itemisation (pp. 187–194). The former was created “for the sake of simplicity” to handle “divisions of lexical units”; the latter is meant for naming “the issue of localising metaphor-related words” (p. 185) in a corpus. Thus, a dichotomy of unitisation and itemisation seems to be a handy pair of terms, which can include several lexis-related problems in the process of MIPVU. Since Polish language contains a wide spectrum of inflectional and derivational morphology, conclusions and statements how to modify MIPVU to the extent of other languages than English meet those in the contribution to Lithuanian.

As Lithuanian and Polish (see above), the Serbian language is rich in inflectional morphology, especially in grammatical cases. Thus, the authors demand an adaptation of MIPVU. “In order to make the Serbian MIPVU comparable to the English and other language versions of the procedure, it is necessary to systematically take this morphological category into consideration” (p. 205). Grammatical case in this sense may offer metaphorical potentials. Typical representatives are oblique cases appearing without governed prepositions (p. 205). In contrast to the English dominating MIPVU, the authors point out a quite clear statement about the role of analysts identifying contextual and basic meanings of words, sadly only in a footnote. “While the existence of separate numbered senses is a prerequisite for regarding the senses as distinct, it is still the individual analyst’s task to decide whether such numbered senses are indeed sufficiently distinct” (p. 211, footnote 4). Despite all the attempts to computerize language analysis, the Serbian colleagues from their point of view encourage all researchers not to blindly trust computerization of language analysis, even in the special case of research into metaphor. A special idea appears in this contribution that deserves more attention for further research. As the authors put it, “that the final count of linguistic metaphors needs to include both lexical and inflectional metaphors” (p. 215), it can be stated that this idea is not quite new. In 1958, the British scholar Brooke-Rose (see References) outlined her ideas on grammatical metaphor including inflectional forms, cases, prepositions and the like.

2.3. The chapters 11 through 13: Non-Indo-European languages

Starting with Chapter 11, the Indo-European language family is left behind. However, the Western linguists’ community does not give that much attention to research going on in other countries outside the Western world. Uzbek, an agglutinative language of the Turkic language family, is presented by Sıla Gen Kaya (Istanbul Aydın University, Turkey), pp. 227–245. The major question now is whether there is a need to adapt the MIPVU to those languages (p. 227), or would it not be better to take the general idea of MIPVU and develop a specialized protocol for detecting, describing and analyzing metaphors in other languages than English. At first sight, Uzbek has a number of cases (like Indo-European languages have), yet their linguistic manifestation is based on different principles. Interestingly, the author on certain occasions of her description grounds on the ideas of cognitive linguistics that were worked out by Lakoff & Johnson. All in all, a return to the cornerstones of cognitive metaphors might be that common ground for establishing a sort of MIPVU protocol for all languages, independent from their position in a certain language family. The author illustrates this possible return by sketching out problems of semantic shifts from concrete to abstract naming examples of the ablative case in Uzbek (pp. 235–237). “This is the reason why metaphoricity is detected by analysing the word form as a whole when an abstract meaning like time, state or emotion is conceptualised as a concrete space via a dative, locative or ablative case marker” (p. 237).

Chapter 12, written by Ben Pin-Yun Wang, Xiaofei Lu, Chan-Chia Hsu, Eric Po-Chung Lin and Haiyang Ai (representing universities from Canada, the USA, and Taiwan), deals with Mandarin Chinese, pp. 247–265. The authors set an aim according to the MIPVU principles “[s]ince MIPVU takes English as its basis, it is of great interest to evaluate the transferability of the procedure to a typologically more distant language like Chinese”, because “[t]o date, MIPVU has not yet gained wide currency in the research field of metaphor in Chinese” (p. 247). Thus, taking MIPVU as an attempt to approach metaphor research will in the future unveil the appropriateness of this project. Recently, the main problem for research into Chinese and to make MIPVU applicable for it is the completely different typology of Chinese. So, the question arises, will all the “Western” categories like “word”, “lexical unit”, “demarcation of words” and the like really work properly when analyzing Chinese (p. 254)?, because the interplay of semantics and syntax. “Rather than constituting a uniform class, VOCs [Verb-Object Compounds – H.-H. D.] have different degrees of ‘wordhood’ in that they vary in their compositionality in meaning and separability of their parts” (p. 255).

Chapter 13 presents a third non-Indo-European language, Sesotho, an agglutinative language spoken in Lesotho, written by Nts’oeu Raphael Seepheephe, Beatrice Ekanjume-Ilongo and Motlalepula Raphael Thuube (National University of Lesotho, Lesotho), pp. 267–287. The authors’ aim is to “present an adjusted version of the MIPVU protocol for application to Sesotho” (p. 267). In this form, the intention is similar to the transferability of MIPVU to Chinese (see above). The researchers into Sesotho are facing a similar situation concerning corpus-based dictionaries that are required by MIPVU. Thus, bilingual Sesotho-English dictionaries are the dictionaries of choice to get started with the MIPVU. Nevertheless, the situation stays somehow critical because “the dictionaries generally have shortcomings that make them unsuitable candidates for metaphor identification” (p. 271). Summing up all these issues, it is impressive how the researchers into Sesotho worked out their findings, which fulfill almost all instances of the MIPVU algorithm. Of course, due to the agglutinative character of Sesotho, some similar problems like for Uzbek (see above) appear. Despite all these problems, and due to the stopgap using English language dictionaries as a backup (p. 271), we can detect similar issues like in all the other language-focused chapters: the imposed position of English, the unusefulness of Western terms like “word”, “demarcation of lexical units”, “orthographic word”.

2.4. English as a lingua franca (ELF)

In Chapter 14 again an Indo-European language, i.e. English as a lingua franca, written by Fiona MacArthur (University of Extremadura, Spain), pp. 289–312, is in focus. Although the status of ELF is still under discussion in linguistics, this contribution offers some interesting, partially challenging perspectives. It all starts with major questions. “After all, even if English is systematically being used as a means of communication between speakers with different language backgrounds, it is still recognizably English, is it not? Surely English is English and a metaphor is a metaphor in any variety of the language?” (p. 289). However, the most important question “is whether the alternative usage [of a word – H.-H. D.] should be regarded as a metaphor or as an error” (p. 293). Undoubtedly, this question opens up a new view to the entire theory of linguistic metaphor. This question will provoke the question of the general status of metaphors. Are they possibly errors? And if so, of what kind? And from a more methodological perspective, is our linguistic output in forms of texts, talks, our dictionaries, our codifications of languages free of errors? Or even more provocative, do we need more doubts acting as language researchers while getting some sort of well-tailored protocol or algorithm? But doubts are not for computerized analysis, doubts are for humans with their intuitions, experiences, skills, habits, wishes, decision-making, and emotions doing the job. This chapter presents the most of unsolved problems concerning the MIPVU: a) the interplay between words (lexical units) and their syntactic role (p. 296), b) doubts concerning “basic meaning” and “most frequent meaning” (p. 300), c) decision making when in doubt between metaphor and metonymy (p. 303), d) reliance on cognitive metaphor theory (p. 304), e) “moving away from sole reliance on dictionary evidence to identify potential metaphors” (p. 309).

3. The Chapter 15

This closing-up chapter is entitled Afterword: Some reflections on MIPVU across languages, written by Elena Semino (Lancaster University, United Kingdom), pp. 313–321. Written from a very personal point of view – “I will begin my reflections …” (p. 313) – on the one hand, the entire chapter comes with too many “opinions”, however, on the other hand, metaphor deserves a more objective, more precise approach. However, this cannot be achieved by wallowing in personal habits, ahistorical statements, and a more or less self-satisfied and self-righteous way of presenting certain parts of the chapter, as the author herself said that “our Metaphor Identification Procedure … provided the field with a clear, rigorous and accessible method that could be applied widely …” (p. 314). After studying chapters 1 through 14, it became clear that for research into metaphor, the MIP(VU) is definitely far from being “clear” since in each chapter dealing with a certain language, the authors state that there is no clearness in that “rigorous” MIPVU because it is, probably, too centered on English, too many adjustments were on the schedule, and possibly due to an additional number of doubts uttered throughout the entire volume. Anyway, the MIPVU deserves the attention of the scholars’ communities. However, it is not the only way to conduct research into a topic that has been attracting researchers of so many provenances for almost 2,500 years. Considering all the research into metaphor since the days of Plato and Aristotle, a “philosopher’s stone” could not be found. A claim like “MIP and MIPVU have dramatically changed the field of metaphor research for the better” (p. 315) suffers from overestimation of the project itself and can be taken as a discrimination of all those other endeavors to research the essence of metaphor. More balance would change things for the better – in a theoretical, methodological, and self-evaluative way. To look forward we may take the MIPVU as it is, an attempt to open up a new road for investigation into metaphor. However, we should never neglect or even forget that there are many other roads to be taken.

Concluding remarks and outlook

Besides all the advantages and disadvantages, the entire volume can be described as a research paper not only into linguistic metaphor but, interestingly, into language typology. This impression is caused by the fact that in the chapters 4 tthrough 14, the emphasis is not exclusively on linguistic metaphor but also on certain special features each language is characterized by. Yet these special features appear in every language independently from their basic character as Indo-European or non-Indo-European, as they are polywords, compounds, prepositions, word classes (parts of speech), cases. Consequently, the entire volume would work well as an overview on language typology. Possibly the authors do not completely realize this opportunity to approach linguistic metaphor, as the title of the book suggests, “in Multiple Languages”. A cross-over research into metaphors could be one of the next steps applying MIPVU.

To sum up, the most important suggestions to adjust the MIPVU concern its methodological foundation: (1) a better consideration of classical (or traditional) theories on metaphor, for example by Aristotle, M. Black, Ch. Brooke-Rose; (2) the application of well-proofed and tested methods to describe and analyze linguistic phenomena, like the structuralist methods of transformation, permutation, substitution and, in the case of phrases and word formation, the IC-analysis; (3) more respect and attention to results of linguistic research into metaphor that has been conducted outside the English-speaking world; (4) considering phenomena subsumed under the term “grammatical metaphor”, as it was created by Brooke-Rose.


Metaphor Identification in Multiple Languages 2019. MIPVU around the world. Eds. S. Nacey, A. G. Dorst, T. Krennmayr, W. G. Reijnierse, W. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.


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Black, M., 1955. Metaphor. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society. New Series, 55, pp. 273–294. Available at: [Accessed 21 February 2020]

Brooke-Rose, Ch., 1958. A Grammar of Metaphor. London: Secker & Warburg.

Haß-Zumkehr, U., 2001. Deutsche Wörterbücher – Brennpunkt von Sprach- und Kulturgeschichte. Berlin. New York: de Gruyter.

Lakoff, G., Johnson, M., 1980. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Snell-Hornby, M., 2006. The Turns of Translation Studies. New paradigms or shifting viewpoints? Amsterdam, Philadephia: Benjamins.

1 Aristotle in Section 3, Part XXII of his Poetics points out: “But the greatest thing by far is to have a command of metaphor. This alone cannot be imparted by another; it is the mark of genius, for to make good metaphors implies an eye for resemblances”.

2 Max Black introduces in his article “Metaphor” a model for describing and analyzing metaphors, which was a blueprint for generations of researchers into metaphor. Sadly, more recent research does not pay the attention to it it deserves. I will quote the entire paragraph to make clear how useful such a model might be here, possibly for the MIPVU project too. “The question I should like to see answered concern the ‘logical grammar’ of ‘metaphor’ and words having related meanings. It would be satisfactory to have convincing answers to the questions: ‘How do we recognize a case of metaphor?’, ‘Are there any criteria for the detection of metaphors?’, ‘Can metaphors be translated into literal expressions?’, ‘Is metaphor properly regarded as a decoration upon ‘plain sense’?’, ‘What are the relations between metaphor and simile?’, ‘In what sense, if any, is a metaphor ‘creative’?’, ‘What is the point of using a metaphor?’, (Or, more briefly, ‘What do we mean by ‘metaphor’?’. The questions express attempts to become clearer about some uses of the word ‘metaphor’—or, if one prefers the material mode, to analyze the notion of metaphor.) (1955: 273).

3 Although Mary Snell-Hornby’s major focus is on translation studies, in her introducing chapter, she expresses her experiences and dissatisfaction with the dominance of the English language by saying that “there has been a disquieting trend in recent years for English to be used, not only as a means of communication, but also as part of the object of discussion … English publications frequently have a clear Anglo-American bias, and what are presented as general principles of translation sometimes prove to be limited to the area under discussion and to be caused by the specific status of English … Conversely, contributions written in languages other than English and on topics outside Anglophile interests tend to be ignored or over-simplified” (2006: ix–x).