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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

On Grounding Metaphors in Space: The Role of Metaphorical Connections in Accessing the Abstract Meanings of English Prepositions
by Breaux, Brooke O., Ph.D., University of Louisiana at Lafayette, 2013, 304; 3589960
Abstract (Summary)

Indirect metaphors are pervasive in everyday language: People talk about long vacations, short tempers, and colorful language. But, why do we use concrete lexical items that are associated with the physical world when we talk about abstract, or non-physical, concepts? A potential answer is provided by proponents of Conceptual Metaphor Theory (CMT), who propose that only a small set of the concepts which make up our conceptual system emerge directly from physical experience, and it is this small number of concepts that serves to structure the ways in which we think and talk about abstract concepts (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980). This key assumption in cognitive linguistics—that our understanding of concrete concepts serves to ground our understanding of abstract concepts—is the focus of my research. Although indirect metaphors are thought to be the result of grounded conceptual connections, motivated by experiential knowledge and flowing from the physical to the non-physical (Grady, 1999), it is unclear whether people access these grounded connections when processing the meanings of indirect metaphors.

The prepositions in and on are an interesting test case for grounded connections: Both lexical items are used frequently by speakers not only to identify the location of one object relative to another but also to refer to more abstract relationships. Therefore, I experimentally investigated the possibility that grounded connections are available for use in tasks requiring on-line processing of these prepositions: Would participants make use of conceptual connections, and if so, would the characteristics associated with these conceptual connections be consistent with the CMT grounding assumption? Although the results for in were consistent with the CMT grounding assumption, the results for on were not. In fact, differences between in and on were found throughout stimulus development, and these differences were used to help explain this discrepancy. The patterns observed throughout this dissertation suggest that in may be more metaphorically active than on , meaning that in's potential to participate in indirect metaphors is higher than on's, and that one consequence of this higher metaphorical activity is an increase in the availability of grounded connections during on-line processing.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Feist, Michele I.
Commitee: Berkeley, Istvan S. N., Dasgupta, Subrata, Rice, Claiborne
School: University of Louisiana at Lafayette
Department: Cognitive Science
School Location: United States -- Louisiana
Source: DAI-B 74/12(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Linguistics, Experimental psychology, Cognitive psychology
Keywords: Cognitive linguistics, Corpus linguistics, Lexical semantics, Metaphor, Polysemy, Semantic priming
Publication Number: 3589960
ISBN: 978-1-303-29142-5
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