What gestures reveal about the nature of metaphor

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Studying gestures in language use offers the opportunity to uncover fundamental properties of metaphor which so far have received little interest – if at all. This is a shift towards studying metaphor as it is used, and it has important theoretical consequences because it reveals that metaphoricity is dynamic; it indicates that the speaker establishes or creates metaphoricity online through a general cognitive process, which is in principle modality independent. These facets of metaphor were uncovered through linguistic microanalyses of multi-modal segments of talk or discourse. Online cognitive processes (and their interactive logic) were reconstructed, drawing upon linguistic methods, gesture studies, and interaction analysis. Co-participants in an interaction have multiple (multi-modal) types of resources at their disposal to construct meaningful utterances and to create mutual understanding. These different methods address different aspects of this process of establishing, elaborating and creating metaphoric meaning. After a brief introductory discussion of some of the established characteristics of metaphor, this chapter presents micro-analyses of three verbogestural utterances which show that metaphors are modality independent products of a general cognitive process, and that they are dynamic in several respects: metaphoricity is not restricted to single clearly bounded entities – be they linguistic expressions, gestures or concepts. In contrast, metaphoricity may be active and maintained over stretches of discourse and it may be subject to successive foregrounding over units of talk and discourse. It will be concluded that activation of metaphoricity critically depends upon the dynamic flow of the speaker’s focal attention.


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