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Public Lecture: Jeannette Littlemore

02. November 2023

„Creative Metaphor and the Expression of Evaluation in Conversations About Work” | Prof. Jeannette Littlemore | 17:00, room D2.2.228

*Please register for the event: bizcomm.lectures@wu.ac.at


"Creative Metaphor and the Expression of Evaluation in Conversations About Work"

The fact that metaphor has a strong physical and visceral basis renders it conducive to the sharing of experiences. This is because metaphor concretely demonstrates what those experiences were like, and listeners are able to infer the communicative meanings by imagining themselves performing (or ‘simulating’) the actions alluded to by the speaker (Gibbs, 2022). This feature of metaphor also allows a speaker to convey what emotions they accompanied the experience, and to offer an evaluation of that experience.

Conventional metaphors provide information about widely shared aspects of experiences, but more idiosyncratic aspects of people’s experiences will more likely be shared through more personalised or creative uses of metaphor. People have been found to use metaphor when evaluating experiences, and to make particular use of creative metaphor when evaluating the individual nature of their experiences. This is because creative metaphor allows them to describe the experience in more depth and with further elaboration. Analyses of the metaphors that people use to describe their experiences can therefore provide powerful insights into the nature of those experiences. Within these analyses, a focus on the creative metaphors that people employ can be particularly valuable as it helps to identify aspects of the experience that are or were particularly salient to the individual.

In this talk I present findings from a study which focused on the use of creative (and conventional) metaphor to evaluate workplace experiences. In this study, I explore the extent to which the desire to express evaluation drives the production of creative metaphor, and examine the effect of polarity in this context. I also focus on the challenges that one faces when attempting to investigate the use of (embodied) (creative) metaphor to express evaluation.  These challenges include difficulties in identifying metaphor in general, and creative metaphor in particular, what the unit of analysis should be, and the applicability of existing procedures. These challenges speak to more fundamental concerns with what is meant by metaphor in general and creative metaphor in particular. In much of the existing metaphor literature, a somewhat simplistic distinction is drawn between creative and conventional metaphor but in practice, people can make creative use of metaphor in many different ways. This leads to a blurring of the boundaries between creative and conventional metaphor, and opens up the question of whether it more appropriate to talk in terms of ‘creative uses of metaphor’ rather than creative metaphor per se. I propose a taxonomy of creative uses of metaphor and discuss how they interact with more conventional uses of metaphor, and how their use might vary according to genre and the type of evaluation being expressed.


Jeannette Littlemore is a Professor of Applied Linguistics in the Department of English Language and Linguistics at the University of Birmingham. She is Chair of the International Organisation for Researching and Applying Metaphor. Her research focuses on the role played by metaphor and metonymy in the sharing of emotional experiences. She also explores the role played by metaphor and metonymy in language learning in cross-cultural communication and language learning. Recent publications include: Creative Metaphor, Emotion and Evaluation in Conversations about Work (Routledge, 2023, with Turner and Tuck); The Many Faces of Creativity: Exploring Synaesthesia through a Metaphorical Lens (CUP, 2023, with Turner); Metaphor, metonymy, the body and the environment: An exploration of the factors that shape emotion-colour associations and their variation across cultures (CUP, 2023, with Bolognesi, Leung, Julich, and Pérez Sobrino); Metaphors in the Mind: Sources of Variation in Embodied Metaphor (CUP, 2019), Metonymy: Hidden Shortcuts in Language, Thought and Communication (CUP, 2015); and Figurative Language, Genre and Register (CUP, 2015, with Deignan and Semino).

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