Conceptual metaphor and comprehension in business writing

Talita C Smit


Recent research studies in cognitive linguistics (Gibbs, 1999; Kővecses, 2005; Lakoff, 1987; Lakoff & Johnson, 1980; Lakoff & Johnson, 1999) have demonstrated that metaphor is not merely a figure of speech. The findings of these studies have shown that metaphor influences a good deal of how people think as it comprises a specific mental, cross-domain mapping in the conceptual system (Balaban, 1999; Ibarretxe-Antuňanu, 1999; Lakoff, 2006; Lakoff & Johnson, 1980). This article looks at whether employing different conceptual metaphors in different versions of the same business report will have an effect on reader comprehension. A small-scale research study was conducted with a group of second-year university students, in which they were given one of two texts concerning the recovery of the economy. Both texts were adapted from a newspaper report and seeded with metaphors and metaphoric expressions. The multiple-choice questions that followed aimed to determine to what extent the readers’ comprehension and interpretation of the report were influenced by the different conceptual metaphors used. The findings indicate that language that served to introduce the sources or targets directly into the content did not necessarily have an effect on the processing of subsequent metaphors involving these concepts; however, it appeared that the surface patterns of metaphorical discourse did affect the inferences drawn about the different conceptual metaphors. It can thus be concluded that a specific metaphoric framework in written discourse does influence the interpretation of the content.

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