“Drugs, traffic, and many other dirty interests”: metaphor and the language learner

Philip, Gill (2006) “Drugs, traffic, and many other dirty interests”: metaphor and the language learner. In: RaAm6 Researching and Applying Metaphor, 10-12 aprile 2006, University of Leeds, UK.
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Research into metaphor in foreign language teaching has primarily focused on the comprehension process, with little if any attention being paid to its effect on students' spoken and written production. While the learning and storing of vocabulary has been shown to be made more effective when extended meanings are signalled by the teacher (Boers 2000; Charteris-Black 2002; Deignan et al. 1997; Holme 2004), much less can as yet be said about the ways in which language learners incorporate figurative language into their normal productive repertoire. Danesi (1994) argues that "conceptual fluency" is fundamental if students are to achieve naturalness in their language production. But linguistic fluency is not created from concepts alone: there is no guarantee that knowledge of the underlying idea will result in the reproduction of lexicogrammatical patternings that are both meaningful and acceptable to a target language audience. When learners produce metaphorical language, they overwhelmingly adhere to concepts that they find familiar. The stock phrases and dead metaphors that advanced students use when writing discursive and argumentative texts are heavily influenced by the conventional conceptualisations shared by their L1, with expressions drawing on L2-specific concepts rarely appearing. When these concepts do appear, they are often presented in ways which are unfamiliar and strange to the native ear, as in this exploitation of the idiomatic expression "to fly the nest": "In the very near future male migrant birds start looking for their new nests for leaving from their parents". Language users - both natives and learners - are often unaware of the dead metaphors contained in conventional figurative expressions. Although it is often possible to identify the metaphorical motivation of such expressions when they are observed in isolation, corpus-based analysis of their use in context suggests that the figurative meaning tends to remain inactive in everyday language use (Philip 2004). It is perhaps because of this relative unawareness of metaphor that students produce such characteristic phraseological oddities as the one contained in the title to this paper. If conceptual mapping from L1 to L2 is incomplete, or the L2 concept unfamiliar, the fluency of production will inevitably be disrupted. But the data analysed so far in this study suggests that concepts can be perfectly in place, but not expressed effectively for purely phraseological reasons, which raises the question of how concept and phraseology interact to create meanings which natives find acceptable. Which exerts the stronger force: collocation or conceptualisation? This paper will discuss the figurative language produced by a group of advanced learners of English in Italy, comparing their conceptual and phraseological fluency with general reference corpora in both Italian and English (CORIS - Corpus di Italian Scritto, University of Bologna, and the Bank of English Online - HarperCollins publishers), with a view to addressing the relationship between concept and wording.

Document type
Conference or Workshop Item (Presentation)
Philip, Gill
figurative language, metaphor, delexicalisation, inter-language, language learning
Deposit date
07 Apr 2006
Last modified
16 May 2011 12:02

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