Research article
Issue: № 3 (7), 2016


The article is devoted to the problem of cognitive bases for metonymy. Metonymy belongs to stylistic devices widely used in the language. There are a lot of papers written on metonymy as a stylistic device. Most of them take the traditional linguistic point of view. But it does not help to answer some other deeper questions concerning the nature and cognitive mechanisms of metonymy, which can be default and stylistically marked. In order to disclose the true nature of this language phenomenon we can apply the cognitive notions of concept, conceptualization, metonymic relationships, idealized cognitive model.

Despite the constant growth of linguistic research, language studies still have some unsolved problems. Unfortunately, a purely linguistic approach sometimes fails to be helpful. I. Schirova states, we should use the scientific paradigm consisting of cognitive, discursive, interpretative characteristics. Only in such case we can penetrate into deeper language mechanisms [2, p. 131].

The cognitive approach of description of language units points out the interrelation between cognition and its representation in language forms. Many consider it as opening up a new direction in language researches.

J. Lakoff and M. Johnson’s famous work ‘Metaphors we live by’ seemed to be a starting point for similar research.

In this article we will make an attempt to see how we can apply the cognitive approach to metonymy. As we know traditionally metonymy is understood as based on the transference of lexical meaning. Its traditional definitions can be summarized as following: metonymy is a figure of speech which is based on regular / occasional transference of naming from one word to another, where the two classes of objects are connected with the relationships of contiguity [ЛЭС].

I. Galperin writes that metonymy is built on the connection between literal and contextual meanings, which are somehow associated [4, p. 144-148].

Yu. Skrebnev refers metonymy to the figures of speech where we have the transference of naming based on the connection between the two objects in the objective reality [8, p. 108].

So we can summarize that the traditional understanding of metonymy depicts it as a prominent figure of speech bearing significant stylistically marked information on the lexical level.

The cognitive approach to the language, on the contrary, assumes that speech activity by its nature is one of the general cognitive activities of human beings. Thus, the basis for a linguistic research consists of cognitive processes including perception, cognition, thinking, information processing, understanding as well as interpreting. Cognitive linguistics admits the primary importance of such notions as: concepts, categories, models, frames, schemas, scenarios, etc.

Many scientists share the viewpoint of metonymy as the phenomenon of cognitive linguistics. Their assumption is based on some findings from traditional linguistics, psychology, psycholinguistics and literal studies. Some linguists claim, metonymy lies in the basis of our everyday cognition and when used in the language, it reflects its cognitive essence. Metonymy also helps us both conceptualize and categorize the world of our perceptions. Thus we go beyond the boundaries of metonymy as such a stylistic device of figurative language, that carries exclusively stylistic information.

R. Langacker defines metonymy as a unit of cognitive linguistics. He depicts it as a cognitive process where one entity is mentally understood through another entity [6, p. 30].

A. Blank understands it as a language means built on salient conceptual connections between various elements within one cognitive frame [3, p. 174].

Among numerous papers on cognitive metonymy, G. Radden and Z. Kovecses’s article stands out. It was called “Towards a Theory of Metonymy” and published in 1999. They define metonymy as a cognitive process in which one entity, the vehicle, provides the mental assess to another conceptual one, the target, within one idealized a cognitive model. In this way, the cognitive approach comprises three points of metonymy as:

1) a conceptual phenomenon;

2) a cognitive process;

3) works within the boundaries of idealized cognitive models [7, p. 17-61].

Now we will briefly look into each of them.

First of all, we should understand metonymy not on a level of linguistics as the name of a thing, but on a cognitive one as a reference to a concept that underlies the naming process. In this way, when we deal with the well-known example of such metonymic sentence as: “She’s just a pretty face”, in reality we have the concepts of ‘face’ and ‘person’. These ones are connected via the conceptual model of the metonymic relationship ‘Face for Person’.

Cognitive linguistics understands metonymy as a cognitive process, which consists of perceiving some conceptual entity through a second one. The former acts as a vehicle, while the latter is a target of the mental process. The above mentioned example reveals the concept of ‘a pretty face’ as a vehicle to the desired target concept of ‘a person’. We should mention that many cases of metonymy are reversible. Moreover we find the opposite relationship also possible. Some cases when the conceptual vehicle and target change their places are quite typical for default metonymy.

The direction of a specific case of metonymy is determined by the contextual salience of one of the two concepts in a definite situation. Both G. Radden and Z. Kovecses state this choice as regulated by some cognitive categories.

It should be mentioned that the notion of contiguity is of paramount importance in the research of metonymy within the cognitive linguistic framework. Some cognitive linguists believe that the relationships of contiguity can exist only within the boundaries of idealized cognitive models (ICM). Such models represent our generalized knowledge about objects and events which results from our experience. Thus, the ICM ‘hearse’ includes a chain of cognitive entities representing separate objects and events, such as: burning candles, death, burial event, graveyard, funeral, etc. All these entities are able to form metonymic relationships of contiguity on such different language levels as namely morphological, lexical, syntactic, and discursive. They can both perform various linguistic functions (reference, prognostic, illocutionary) and connect different ontological realms (concepts, forms, things and events). All these result in a diversity of metonymy.

The classification of metonymy can be presented in a hierarchal structure. According to the type of ontological realm some linguists speak of three main types of ICM: sign, reference and conceptual. Each of them is further subdivided into definite types of metonymic relationships.

Sign ICM can form such following types of metonymic relationships as: “Form for Concept” (‘dollar’ as ‘money’). Reference ICM can form “Form / Concept for Thing / Event” (the word ‘cow’ instead of a real cow). Conceptual ICM can form “Form / Concept for Form / Concept” (‘the buses are on strike’ instead of ‘the bus drivers are on strike’).

On a lower hierarchal level all possible types of metonymic relationships within ICM are combined into two major subgroups or configurations: “Whole-Part”, “Part-Part”.

The first subgroup comprises the following ICM: the Scale ICM, the Constitution ICM, the Event ICM, the Category-and-Member ICM, the Category-and-Property ICM, and the Reduction ICM. Some examples:

1. The Scale ICM “The Upper End of the Scale instead of the Whole Scale”:   

How old are you?

2. The Constitution ICM “Material Constituting an Object for the Object”:

The marble spoke.

3. The Event ICM “The Whole Event for Subevent”:

Bill smoked marijuana (the whole event includes several subevents: to light the cigarette, to take it to the lips, to inhale the smoke, etc.).

4. The Category-and-Member ICM “Present for Habitual”:

I always leave my umbrella at home when it rains

5. The Category-and-Property ICM “Category for Defining Property”:

Judas for ‘treacherous’, Cadillac for ‘the best of’, a second Chomsky for an upcoming star in linguistics

6. The Reduction ICM “Part of a Form for the Whole Form”:

crude for ‘crude oil’.

The Part-Part configuration applies to a more variety of ICMs. They are: the Action ICM, the Perception ICM, the Causation ICM, the Production ICM, the Control ICM, the Possession ICM, the Location ICM. Some examples:

1. The Action ICM “The Result for the Action”

to win a fortune! (the action ‘to play in the casino’)

2. The Perception ICM “The Thing Perceived for Perception”

There goes my knee (the perception is a pain in the knee)

3. The Causation ICM “State for the Thing\Person Causing it”

She was my ruin

4. The Production ICM “The Producer for the Product”

I’ve got a Ford

5. The Control ICM “The Controlled for the Controller”

The Mercedes has arrived

6. The Possession ICM “Possessed for Possessor”

He married money

7. The Location ICM “Place for Event”

Waterloo was a great event.

So we can state that above mentioned types of metonymic relationships within idealized cognitive models somehow correlate with the types of metonymy traditionally stated in stylistics. The traditional stylistics also speaks about “The Container for the Thing Contained”, “The Material for the Thing made of it”, etc. Nevertheless, the scientific assumption underlying it is different. Thus, cognitive linguistics proves cognitive processes of our perception, processing, interpreting, reflecting the reality, as primary and those which form relationships within idealized cognitive models further reflected in the language. Such understanding of metonymic relationships enables us to penetrate deeper into the nature of default and stylistic metonymy.


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