Blog Post written by James Mckellar, Cambridge University Press
The Study of Language by George Yule has proven itself to be the student and instructor choice for first courses in language and linguistics because of its accessible approach to, what is often, a complicated subject. The book has been recognised internationally for being easy to follow, simple to understand, and fun to read, with its quirky anecdotes and examples of languages from around the world.
Cambridge University Press are proud to announce the publication of the 6th edition and would like to share with you some of the new material and key features. The Study of Language clearly explains the major concepts in linguistics through all the key elements of language. The sixth edition has been revised and updated throughout, with substantial changes made to chapters on phonetics, grammar and syntax, and the addition of 30 new figures and tables and 80 new study questions. To increase student engagement and to foster problem-solving and critical thinking skills, the book also includes 20 new tasks. An expanded and revised online study guide provides students with further resources, including answers and tutorials for all tasks, while encouraging lively and proactive learning. This is the most fundamental and easy-to-use introduction to the study of language.
A significant teaching challenge faced by instructors is that of providing a survey of language as an area for study within a short period of time (typically a single semester) for students with no or very little prior knowledge of the subject. Yule’s approach condenses technical terminology into concise bite sized chapters, allowing flexibility in teaching.
Table of Contents
Preface, 1. The origins of language, 2. Animals and human language, 3. The sounds of language, 4. The sound patterns of language, 5. Word-formation, 6. Morphology, 7. Grammar, 8. Syntax, 9. Semantics, 10. Pragmatics, 11. Discourse analysis, 12. Language and the brain, 13. First language acquisition, 14. Second language acquisition/learning, 15. Gestures and sign languages, 16. Written language, 17. Language history and change, 18. Regional variation in language, 19. Social variation in language, 20. Language and culture, Glossary, References, Index.
To find out more about the 6th edition click here ,To read a free extract click here
Blog post written by Ian Roberts, University of Cambridge
I’d like to begin by talking about my cat, Clover. He really is very intelligent: he knows exactly how to wake me up in the morning, exactly which shelf in which cupboard his food is kept on, where his bowl is, how to get let out, and lots of other things. You won’t catch the average ant, starfish or parsnip doing any of that. By the standards of nearly everything in the known universe, he really is smart.
But of course we’re much smarter. There are plenty of things in the world, especially in our mental world, that poor Clover has absolutely no inkling of: notably such things as nouns, quantifiers and syllables, i.e. language. These things are every bit as much beyond Clover as waking me up to get me to feed it would be for a parsnip or a starfish. Obviously the fact that we have language has a lot to do with this cognitive gulf between us and our pets, but that may not be the whole story.
But a natural question to ask is: is there a similar cognitive gulf between us and other forms of intelligence? We seem to be smartest creatures on our planet, but this is where the extra-terrestrials come in. Here I’m not interested in various forms of slime that might be around on Mars or elsewhere, but intelligent extra-terrestrials, the sort that might build spaceships. Could there be extra-terrestrials so much smarter than us that they would keep us as pets? Or (cue the creepy sci-fi music), are we already pets but we just don’t know it? After all, Clover doesn’t know he’s my pet. Are there, in other words, concepts as impossible for us as the concepts three, verb or phoneme are for Clover?
If the answer is yes, then we’d better keep out of the way of the smarter extra-terrestrials. Nothing good for us can come of contact with such creatures; the best we can hope is to be treated as pets. You don’t want to think about the worst.
But the answer doesn’t have to be yes. It is also quite possible that we have crossed a cognitive threshold. Our capacity to express anything, through the recursive syntax and compositional semantics of natural language might have taken us into a cognitive realm where anything, everything, is possible. Effectively, having language has made us the equal of any extra-terrestrial (who would have to have something like language in order to build their spaceships).
In the movie 2001: A Space Odessey, Stanley Kubrick made one of the most brilliant associative cuts in movie history. The film starts in prehistory, and shows a bunch of ape-men fighting over a water-hole. Then one day one of them comes across a monolith which makes a weird noise. This is an alien artefact which somehow transmits intelligence. Next time he squares up to the enemy ape-men at the water-hole, this one picks up a bone and smashes the enemy’s head in. In jubilation at this discovery of a weapon, he throws it up into the air and as it spins around Kubrick cuts to an image of a spaceship orbiting the earth.
Kubrick’s message is clear: once you’ve figured out how to use tools, it’s a short step to spaceships. That movie was made in the 1960s at a time when many people thought that Man the Tool-Maker was the key to the differences between us and other species, and hence that inventing tools was a crucial step in human evolution. We now know that’s not true, as quite a few other species use tools of various kinds. But Kubrick’s basic idea that there might have been a crucial mutation in human evolution which led, in almost no time from an evolutionary perspective, to space travel might have been right. And it’s a plausible speculation that the mutation in question was whatever it is that makes our brains capable of computing recursive syntax. It’s a short step, not a great leap, from syntax to spaceships.
Anyway, something (God, natural selection, a random mutation, an alien monolith) has given us our extraordinary minds with our extraordinary capacity for generating, storing and transmitting knowledge. Language really must be central to these abilities. My new book The Wonders of Language, or How to Make Noises and Influence People, is an introduction to what linguists have discovered about this truly remarkable phenomenon. Understanding language means understanding a very big part of what it is to be human, what it is to be you.
An Interview with Ian Roberts, the author of The Wonders of Language :
Blog post written by Robbert Kennedy, University of California, Santa Barbra
I am excited to share Phonology: A Coursebook with instructors everywhere. This textbook represents the culmination of many years of thinking about how to make the content of phonology courses more accessible and engaging to students, and I can share a few examples of what is new about it here.
I have always believed phonological analysis to be an important skill for linguists of any stripe, so I think it’s crucial that students establish a solid understanding of its central concepts. But Linguistics is growing as an academic field, with its traditions of structural analysis and documentation joined by those interested in the study of language through the lens of identity, technology, and many other angles. The growth in size and range of our undergraduate population (at my home institution, and surely many others) reflects this. My personal motivation for writing a phonology textbook thus comes from my classroom observation of the varying interests and learning styles among students, not just in phonology courses but in other linguistics courses as well – so that even if the student is not planning on specializing in phonology, they can still experience the course as a practicum in the procedures of the scientific method.
With this in mind, I have structured this book around a mindset of the primacy of data: its chapters are organized around types of phonological processes and patterns, with assimilation, deletion, insertion, harmony, syllabification, stress, and tonal phenomenal all highlighted as objects of phonological analysis. While I have included familiar classic problem sets, including data from languages such as Yokuts, Turkish, Hungarian, Japanese, Kongo, and Polish, I have enriched them with many others that are either less canonical or newly developed, with notable exercises on syllabification, tone, and prosodic morpho-phonology. Moreover, I have used the data to guide the use of formalisms like features, or rules, or tiered representations.
Meanwhile, I have observed in the past that some students have difficulty seeing phonology and the input-output relationship when following the standard teaching practice of introducing them with distributional facts and phonemic analysis. To address this, I introduce the concepts of underlying representations and processes that operate on them with more concretely observable examples of morphophonemic alternation before exploring phonemic analysis and complementary distribution.
This gives students something more tangible to grasp early on – the idea that a single underlying phoneme could have multiple surface allophones is more plainly obvious when the forms of specific morphemes alternate by their phonological context. In practice, teaching about phonemes by using complementary distribution and mutual exclusivity, which are more circumstantial in their evidentiality, risks a level of abstractness that is perhaps best left until later in the term. There is a parallel to be drawn with calculus, where the instructor may teach either integrals or derivatives first. Teaching derivatives first is more intuitive to many learners, but in phonology it is as if we have been teaching integrals first.
I believe this approach dovetails well with the spirit of Cambridge’s Coursebook series, in which the reader is presented with datasets and exercises, but the analytical steps are narrated procedurally to illustrate the links between detecting patterns and accounting for their nuances and complexity.
The second novel component is a deeper integration of typological generalizations as an element of phonological argumentation. In class when leading students on how to decide among competing analyses, I often find myself turning to typological evidence, yet note that this information is not readily at the hands of undergrads. The organization of the book by processes clarifies that there are certain types of phenomena that are typologically prevalent, and I use this to argue for the student that the formal tools should reflect these trends.
Another deliberate aspect of this textbook is how it treats the role of features and representations. Feature charts and derivational conventions are so rich with detail and precision that students can get lost trying to remember them all, especially if they think of the best analysis as one that uses the correct features. I often see students struggling to memorize feature charts for IPA symbols rather than thinking of natural classes in more concrete terms. Thus I emphasize in the text that the features are valuable analytical tools, but what a student employs in a given analysis must primarily distinguish groups of sounds that behave differently.
This textbook is aimed at introductory phonology classes, particularly for students who have completed an introductory course in linguistics and/or phonetics and have working knowledge of IPA transcription and some basics of morphological analysis. Nevertheless the datasets are numerous and rich enough to be useful for more advanced students of phonology as well.
I look forward to using this textbook in the classroom and sincerely hope other phonology instructors will find it both useful and engaging as a resource for their students.
Teaching a course on this topic?
EMEA lecturers may request a copy of this title for inspection here
US instructors may request a copy of this title for examination here
Visit the book’s page for more information here
1. Can you define uptalk very briefly for those who don’t know?
Uptalk is the use of rising intonation (voice pitch) at the ends of statements or parts of statements. It is sometimes referred to as the use of question intonation on statements, but this is misleading, because not all questions have rising intonation (indeed there are many question types that tend to have falling intonation, such as those which have a wh-word at the beginning, like who, what, where), and there are rises on statements that are different from uptalk rises (such as on non-final items in a list like apples, oranges, bananas and pears, or the ‘continuation rise’ that you are likely to hear at the comma in Although this has a rise, it is not a question). Typically uptalk, which is also known as upspeak and high rising terminal (amongst other terms), is used to keep an interaction going, inviting the listener into the conversation. This is a specific instance of a more general property of high pitch to show openness, while lower pitch tends to mark finality or closure. However, because rising intonation is frequently associated with questions, many lay observers criticise ‘uptalkers’ for being uncertain about what they are saying. Interestingly, though, studies have shown that uptalk is highly likely in narrative contexts, such as when people are recounting something they have witnessed or experienced firsthand. These are unlikely to be situations where the speaker is uncertain.
2. What inspired you to write Uptalk?
As a psycholinguist, I devote a lot of my research time to looking at how we produce and understand language, especially spoken language. I have for a long time had a particular interest in how listeners interpret the intonation in utterances that they hear, and when I moved to New Zealand, a country where uptalk has a longer history than in most of the world, I was intrigued by how this particular form of intonation was interpreted. It was clear to me that non-uptalkers frequently arrived at a different interpretation from that intended by the speaker. This interest resulted in a series of research studies, during which I learned more about uptalk in different varieties of English and in other languages too. It seemed a natural next step to put what I had learned into a book where others – whether or not they are linguistics researchers – could have ready access to the wealth of information that is out there concerning the history, spread, and use of uptalk around the world.
3. How much does it vary according to the speaker’s age, gender and regional dialect?
There are certain parts of the world where uptalk has been a feature of spoken English for quite a long time: New Zealand, Australia and parts of Canada and the United States (particularly California). But it has been reported in many other English-speaking countries, as well as in other languages, particularly either there is where contact with English-speaking communities or a clear influence of the English language on youth culture. Typically, it is associated with young women, but it is by no means exclusively used by females, nor just by the young. Indeed, a number of studies have shown that people of the generation who were young uptalkers in the 1980s have continued to use uptalk as they have grown older. There may be some historical basis for saying that uptalk is a feature of young female speech, since linguists have shown that it is often young women who initiate a change in patterns of language use. Now, however, the claim that young women are the main users of uptalk is probably more a stereotype than a reality. In fact, uptalk is so common in some parts of the English-speaking world that subtle distinctions are developing in what uptalk rises and true question rises sound like, as part of making the difference clearer.
4. What are the key features and benefits that readers will take away from Uptalk ?
What I have tried to do in this book is provide a comprehensive overview of what uptalk is like, including how it differs from other forms of rising intonation; what its many functions and meanings are; how it is distributed and used across the many varieties of English (and other languages) in which it is found; which speaker groups are more likely to use it; and how it is perceived and interpreted by listeners. For those interested in how researchers have investigated uptalk, there is also a chapter on methodology. Because there has been so much discussion of uptalk in newspapers and self-help books, as well as on the radio and television, I also wanted to provide an exploration of the media response to uptalk, including some discussion of the types of statements often used in support of the largely negative claims made by journalists and others. So Uptalk covers a lot of ground, and should be of interest to both linguists and non-linguists alike.
Find out more about Uptalk: The Phenomenon of Rising Intonation
Blog Post written by Eve V. Clark (Stanford University), author of the recently published First Language Acquisition (3rd Edition)
How early do infants start in on language?
Even before birth, babies recognize intonation contours they hear in utero, and after birth, they prefer listening to a familiar language over an unfamiliar one. And in their first few months, they can already discriminate between speech sounds that are the same or different.
How early do infants understand their first words, word-endings, phrases, utterances?
Children learn meanings in context, both from hearing repeated uses of words in relation to their referents, and from feedback from adults when they use a word correctly or incorrectly. When a child is holding a ball, the mother might say “Ball. That’s a ball”, and the child could decide that “ball” picks out round objects of that type. Still, it may take many examples to establish the link between a word-form (“ball”) and a word-meaning (round objects of a particular type) and to relate the word “ball” to neighbouring words (throw, catch, pick up, hold). It takes even longer for the child’s meaning of a word to fully match the adult’s.
When do infants produce their first words and truly begin to talk?
Infants babble from 5-10 months on, giving them practice on simple syllables, but most try their first true words at some time between age 1 and age 2 (a broad range). They find certain sounds harder to pronounce than others, and certain combinations (e.g., clusters of consonants) even harder. It therefore takes practice to arrive at the adult pronunciations of words –– to go from “ba” to “bottle”, or from “ga” to “squirrel”. Like adults, though, children understand much more than they can say.
What’s the relation between what children are able to understand and what they are able to say?
Representing the sound and meaning of a word in memory is essential for recognizing it from other speakers. Because children are able to understand words before they produce them, they can make use of the representations of words they already understand as models to aim for when they try to pronounce those same words.
How early do children begin to communicate with others?
A few months after birth, infants follow adult gaze, and they respond to adult gaze and to adult speech face-to-face, with cooing and arm-waving. As they get a little older, they attend to the motion in adult hand-gestures. By 8 months or so, they recognize a small number of words, and by 10 months, they can also attend to the target of an adult’s pointing gestures. They themselves point to elicit speech from caregivers, and they use gestures to make requests – e.g., pointing at a cup as a request for juice. They seem eager to communicate very early.
How do young children learn their first language?
Parents check up on what their children mean, and offer standard ways to say what the children seem to be aiming for. Children use this adult feedback to check on whether or not they have been understood as they intended.
Do all children follow the same path in acquisition?
No, and the reason for this depends in part on the language being learnt. English, for example, tends to have fixed word order and relatively few word endings, while Turkish has much freer word order and a large number of different word-endings. Languages differ in their sound systems, their grammar, and their vocabulary, all of which has an impact on early acquisition.
These and many other questions about first language acquisition are explored in the new edition of First Language Acquisition. In essence, children learn language in interaction with others: adults talk with them about their daily activities – eating, sleeping, bathing, dressing, playing; they expose them to language and to how it’s used, offer feedback when they make mistakes, and provide myriad opportunities for practice. This book reviews findings from many languages as it follows the trajectories children trace during their acquisition of a first language and of the many skills language use depends on.
First Language Acquisition (third edition), Cambridge University Press 2016
Blog post by James McKellar, Retail Marketing Executive for Linguistics at Cambridge University Press.
I wanted to share a post with our linguistics followers about a few exciting new textbooks we have recently published here at Cambridge. For lecturers looking for inspection copies please follow the links through to the relevant books pages to order. Enjoy!
5) Introducing Morphology 2nd edition by Rochelle Lieber
Morphology is the study of how words are put together. A lively introduction to the subject, this textbook is intended for undergraduates with relatively little background in linguistics. Providing data from a wide variety of languages, it includes hands-on activities such as ‘challenge’ boxes, designed to encourage students to gather their own data and analyze it, work with data on websites, perform simple experiments, and discuss topics with each other. There is also an extensive introduction to the terms and concepts necessary for analyzing words. Unlike other textbooks it anticipates the question ‘is it a real word?’ and tackles it head on by looking at the distinction between dictionaries and the mental lexicon. This second edition has been thoroughly updated, including new examples and exercises as well as a detailed introduction to using linguistic corpora to find and analyze morphological data.
Find out more about Introducing Morphology 2nd Edition by Rochelle Lieber
4) El Español de los Estados Unidos by Anna Maria Escobar & Kim Potowski
How long has Spanish been spoken in the US and how many people speak it today? Is Spanish being passed down through generations? What role does Spanish play in US Latino identity? Analysing and synthesising data from a wide variety of sources, Escobar and Potowski explore these questions and more in this up-to-date textbook for students of Spanish language, linguistics, bilingualism, sociolinguistics, culture, and history. • Over 150 exercises help students engage with the linguistic characteristics of Spanish, Spanish-dialect contact, bilingualism, and Spanish communities in the US • Exercises and examples refer students to external, online sources so they can experience Spanish through a range of media • Concepts are clearly defined with detailed examples for readers who may not have a background in linguistics • Misconceptions about Spanish varieties and Latino communities are addressed, ensuring readers will emerge with a clear understanding of how Latino communities vary linguistically and socioculturally.
Find out more about El Español de los Estados Unidos
3) Second Language Speech by Laura Colantoni, Jeffrey Steele & Paola Escudero
Second language acquisition has rapidly grown as a field over the past decade, as our knowledge of the ways in which children and adults learn and use a second language has become crucial for effective language teaching. In addition to this important ‘applied’ function, research into second language acquisition has also informed the fields of linguistics and psychology in general, as it has shed light on the differences between native and non-native models of human language and cognition. The focus of this accessible new book is second language speech – that is, how speakers perceive, process, understand and pronounce the sounds of a second language. Each chapter includes review questions, and most chapters include ‘tutorial’ and ‘lab’ sections with practical exercises based on the University of Toronto Romance Phonetics Database (available online for free). The book also has a companion website, containing illustrated answers to the exercises, scripts for running acoustic analyses and useful weblinks.
Find out more about Second Language Speech Theory and Practice
2) Exploring Language and Linguistics by Natalie Braber, Louise Cummings & Liz Morrish
Exploring Language and Linguistics considers the key concepts of linguistics and the application of these concepts to real-world settings. The first eight chapterscover the standard topics of introduction to linguistics courses, while subsequent chapters introduce students to applied topics such as media discourse, literary linguistics and psycholinguistics. Each chapter has been written by a subject expert and experienced teacher, ensuring that the text is both up-to-date and clearly presented. Numerous learning features provide extensive student support: exercises allow students to review their understanding of key topics; summaries encourage students to reflect on the main points of each chapter; figures, photos, tables and charts clarify complex topics; and annotated suggestions for further reading point students to resources for self-study. A companion website, with 170 self-test questions, suggested group exercises, audio files and links to additional web resources, completes the learning package.
Find out more about Exploring Language and Linguistics
Click the video below to watch an interview with Natalie Braber on Exploring Language and Linguistics…
Natalie Braber Author Interview
1) Pragmatics and Discourse Disorders by Louise Cummings
An essential study aid for students of speech and language pathology, this highly practical workbook includes short-answer questions and data analysis exercises which help students to test and improve their knowledge of pragmatic and discourse disorders. The book contains a detailed examination of the causes, language and cognitive features of these disorders and includes frequently encountered clinical populations and conditions that are overlooked by other texts. The use of actual linguistic data provides readers with an authentic insight into the clinical setting. • 200 short-answer questions help students to develop and test their knowledge of pragmatic and discourse disorders • 67 data analysis exercises provide readers with real-life clinical scenarios • Fully worked answers are provided for all exercises, saving the lecturer time and allowing the reader to self-test and improve understanding • A detailed glossary of terms makes the text a self-contained reference tool • Carefully selected suggestions for further reading are provided for each chapter.
Find out more about Pragmatics and Discourse Disorders
For more information on our new and forthcoming textbooks from Cambridge please visit www.cambridge.org/linguisticstextbooks
Blog post written by Liz Morrish co-author of Exploring Language and Linguistics
When we contemplated producing a new introductory textbook in Linguistics, we wanted to offer students something different. Engagement and learning gain are hot topics in higher education circles at the moment, and we feel this book is ahead of the curve. Introductory textbooks can sometimes leave the curious student unsatisfied. They can open up a subject, and then leave the reader wondering where to go next. We decided that students should begin their experience of linguistics with high-quality chapters written by internationally-recognized experts in each of the different fields. The authors have been selected for their experience in writing for an introductory undergraduate audience, to present each sub-discipline of linguistics in an accessible manner. Universities should offer research-led teaching right from day one, and we wanted to capture that aspiration in this textbook.
We also wanted to make sure that students were as engaged by theoretical chapters as much as by chapters in applied linguistics. To ensure this, we have asked authors to structure their chapters around text-box summaries, and frequent exercises (yes, the answers are in the back of the book). There is also an interactive website to support the book, with even more exercises for students to confirm understanding and get feedback. In response to an excellent suggestion by a reviewer, we have also included a group exercise for each chapter.
We were aware that linguistics courses in the US tend to emphasize more structural approaches (phonology, syntax etc.), while those in the UK feature more applied and discourse analytical approaches. In the introductory module which we as editors have co-taught for many years, we have always treated these two approaches equally. We know that students need a thorough grounding in the levels of linguistic description and the tools of linguistic analysis before they are fully prepared to progress to more advanced courses and apply their learning to real-world settings.
To give some examples of how we offer students engaging and challenging exercises:
The phonetics chapter explains the articulation of consonants and vowels, and leads students to a group exercise in making sociophonetic observations. Students will be able to confirm their understanding in the sociolinguistics chapter where the group exercise asks them to make judgements drawing on concepts in phonology, grammar, lexis and discourse in investigating data from the archive of the British Library’s website Sounds Familiar? The language and ideology chapter introduces students to analytical techniques which uncover ideologies in texts, and their relationship to power structures. In the web exercise on language and the media, groups of students are invited to bring these concepts to an examination of a website of a news organisation and critically evaluate the meanings inherent in choices of language, attribution and even pictures as they affect the reading of stories.
It could be argued that the authors of the structural chapters have had a tougher challenge in engaging students, but this has been fully met with some excellent resources and exercises:
The syntax chapter invites students to solve problems by playing with word order in noun phrases; the pragmatics chapter presents data of children with pragmatic disorders so that students can use concepts such as presupposition to diagnose clinical problems; the semantics chapter requires students to question the basis of antonymy and contrast in the lexicon.
This book is fascinating and accessible. It will structure the learning of all students, and extend the conceptual abilities of the most able. We are definitely expecting to see great results in our own modules.
Find out more about this textbook written by Natalie Braber, Liz Morrish & Louise Cummings here
Cambridge University Press presents the Virtual Linguistics Bookcase tour. Click the bookcase below to take a virtual tour of some of our newest titles. When you find a product that you want to find out more about simply click the link provided to be taken to the Cambridge University website for more information and to buy.
Figurative Language, written by Barbara Dancygier and Eve Sweetser, is a lively, comprehensive and practical book which offers a new, integrated and linguistically sound understanding of what figurative language is. The following extract is taken from the Introduction.
Thinking about figurative language requires first of all that we identify some such entity – that we distinguish figurative language from non-figurative or literal language. And this is a more complex task than one might think. To begin with, there appears to be a circular reasoning loop involved in many speakers’ assessments: on the one hand they feel that figurative language is special or artistic, and on the other hand they feel that the fact of something’s being an everyday usage is in itself evidence that the usage is not figurative. Metaphor, rather than other areas of figurative language, has been the primary subject of this debate. Lakoff and Johnson (1980) recount the story of a class taught by Lakoff at Berkeley in the 1970s in which he gave the class a description of an argument and asked them to find the metaphors. He expected that they would recognize phrases such as shoot down someone else’s argument, bring out the heavy artillery, or blow below the belt as evidence of metaphoric treatment of argument as War or Combat. Some class members, however, protested, saying, But this is the normal, ordinary way to talk about arguing. That is, because these usages are conventional rather than novel, and everyday rather than artistic, they cannot be metaphoric. However, there are many reasons to question this view, and to separate the parameters of conventionality and everyday usage from the distinction between literal and figurative. One of these is historical change in meaning: historical linguists have long recognized that some meaning change is metaphoric or metonymic. For example, around the world, words meaning ‘see’ have come to mean ‘know’ or ‘understand.’ Indeed, in some cases that past meaning is lost: English wit comes from the Indo-European root for vision, but has only the meaning of intellectual ability in modern English. But in other cases, such as the see in I see what you mean, metaphoric meanings in the domain of Cognition exist alongside the original literal Vision uses. This knowing is seeing metaphor is extremely productive: transparent, opaque, illuminate, and shed light on are among the many English locutions which are ambiguous between literal visual senses and metaphoric intellectual ones. Do we want to say that because these are conventional usages, they are not metaphoric? In that case, we would have to separate them completely from less entrenched uses which show the same metaphoric meaning relationship: if someone says they have examined a candidate’s record with a magnifying glass, we probably don’t want to say that there should be a dictionary entry for magnifying glass listing this usage. Still less would we want to make a new dictionary entry if someone said they had gone over the data with an electron microscope. As has been widely argued, starting with Lakoff and Johnson, the most plausible hypothesis here is that while wit is no longer metaphoric, transparent and shed light on are metaphoric – and that it is precisely the habitual use of conventional instances of the knowing is seeing metaphor which helps motivate innovative uses.
It is thus possible for metaphor or metonymy to motivate conventional extensions of word meanings – and figurative links which are pervasively used in this way shape the vocabularies of the relevant languages. At a first approximation, then, we might say that figurative means that a usage is motivated by a metaphoric or metonymic relationship to some other usage, a usage which might be labelled literal. And literal does not mean ‘everyday, normal usage’ but ‘a meaning which is not dependent on a figurative extension from another meaning.’ We will be talking about the nature of those relationships in more detail soon, but of course metaphor and metonymy are not the only motivations for figurative usage. In this context, we might say that polysemy – the relationship between multiple related conventional meanings of a single word – is often figurative in nature. English see continues to manifest simultaneously meanings related to physical vision and ones related to cognition or knowledge: Can you see the street signs? coexists with Do you see what I mean?.
Read the full excerpt here or find out more about Figurative Language here.