High on metaphor, low on simile? An examination of metaphor type in sub-registers of academic prose

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Recent corpus studies found that academic prose is particularly rich in metaphor,but exhibits an unexpectedly low proportion of forms of ‘direct metaphor’,such as simile (cf. Steen, Dorst, Herrmann, Kaal, & Krennmayr, 2010a; Steenet al., 2010b). One explanation is deliberate metaphor use: in opposition toindirect forms (he attacked my argument), direct forms of metaphor (the leaf isshaped like a minaret) are normally explicitly signaled and often appear morevividly ‘metaphorical’. To control precision of linguistic reference, and to abideby an overarching stylistic maxim of academic prose that regulates markedfigurativeness, writers of academic texts may thus try to delimitate deliberatemetaphor use in the form of direct metaphor.However, recent advances in the study of English for Academic Purposeshave stressed that the analysis of academic discourse cannot ignore ‘disciplinaryspecificity’ (cf. Hyland, 2009). Using an exploratory approach, the present chapterhence transgresses the rather broad unit of ‘register’ to zoom in on academicprose as specialist discourse of distinct ‘sub-registers’. Using the academic textsample (some 49,000 words) of the VUAMC (Steen et al. 2010c), it analyzesthree metaphor types (indirect, implicit, and direct) across four different academicsub-registers (humanities arts, natural sciences, politics law education,social sciences). I report variation of metaphor type across the sub-registers,with the highest proportion of direct metaphors in natural sciences, followed byhumanities arts. My findings on variation of metaphor type advances a finergrainedview of metaphor use in academic prose, taking into account distinctcommunicative functions of metaphor types.


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