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on 3 October 2011
This book has become a classic and some will even say some kind of pioneering gospel in the field of the study of metaphors. As a starting point, or rather a prompter, I will quote the 2003 Afterword: "In short, metaphor is a natural phenomenon." Lakoff is a linguist and as such of course he does not neglect language ane knows metaphors are a linguistic phenomenon. Still as a prompter I will ask the question: is language a natural phenomenon or a man-made invention?

I will not answer that question here. It is a wider question than the book itself. I am surprised that he actually wrote this sentence that leads to that question. But he states this sentence because he never ever considers the phylogeny of language in the emerging Homo Sapiens, nor the real psychogenesis of language in a real child. And yet he is stating some of the fundamental principles of these two approaches of language, of the linguistic faculty of man.

I will not discuss his approach of the Objectivist conception or of the Subjectivist conception. These approaches are just unrealistic. They do not consider man and his linguistic invention in the real genetic conditions that produced the emergence of language in Homo Sapiens, nor the mergence of language in a new-born child. Why waste time on such a passé if not archaic discussion. The book did it when it came out in 1979. That was OK then, though already slightly wilted, but today it sounds absurd to discuss such theories or myths that have nothing to do with reality. I will remain in this review within the theoretical approach of Lakoff himself, what he calls the Experientialist approach. And that is already a lot to consider.

In the book the best summary is p. 272-3. But you have to read the whole book to really understand the arguments.

The first one is: "Metaphors are fundamentally conceptual in nature: metaphorical language is secondary" meaning of a second level of generation. If metaphors are conceptual they depend on the brain/mind activity and there we have to widen the question: what is "mind"? The answer is not easy and Lakoff or the Neuro-Linguistic Programming that he quotes is even less clear on that concept and they ignore the approach that is most detached from western philosophy that Lakoff systematically dismantle, i.e. Buddhism, the fact that the "mind" is the sixth sense, in fact a meta-sense that receives, analyzes and discriminates in all kinds of ways the stimuli coming from the five other senses. That would really help these people to build the real experiential approach of what concepts are. They are on the right track but they are not able to go to the end of it because they miss that simple fact.

That means those concepts cannot exist without being invented, discriminated, devised first and there the conditions as seen by Lakoff are in the right direction again but not to the end. The concepts are the result of one particular capability the "mind" has within the brain and the central nervous system and the sensori-motor management of the body: the capacity to conceptualize through direct experience collectively both received or suffered.

The new-born, and before him Homo Sapiens, has the genetic possibility to develop a central nervous system and a brain that give him the ability to learn - or develop - language which is the possibility to invent concepts and categories that are in phase with the brain itself, hence easy to be acquired and rather easy to be invented, but this invention/acquisition cannot occur without some fundamental circumstantial experiential elements, what I call the trauma of birth and hunger, the trauma of the first cry that means the total separation from the mother, the absolute impotence if not even worse of the child who is absolutely dependent on his environment to survive.

Lakoff does not seem to understand that. The only time he speaks of children he says: "All children struggle against the physical manipulations of their parents." (p. 265) This is on the verge of an unacceptable student assertion. It is not acceptable from a researcher. It is obvious (and that is no intimidation, just something anyone can check in any maternity in the world) that the new-born is longing and welcoming and needing the physical contact with the mother and the other nurturers who are going to take care of them. The first cry of the child only means they have a feeling of want or need but pretty soon, after just a few instances, the child will cry to call for the nurturer.

If Lakoff had just reflected on this point he would not have committed this second mistake: "This neural learning mechanism produces a stable conventional system of primary metaphors that tend to remain in place indefinitely within the conceptual system and are independent of language" (p. 256) Lakoff is right up to the last and. The child, even before their birth is in contact, all the time, with language from the mother, her direct environment during pregnancy and the various people around her after delivery. From the 24th week of the pregnancy the child can hear clearly what is being said and around their mothers. The mother and all other nurturers are going to speak to the child and put words on every single element of their experience. The child is going to build in their experiential mind the concepts for the objects they are confronted to, the people they are dealing with, the relations with these people and these objects, the functions they hold in these relations. All that is first of all experiential psychology for the child whose mind is being built through this experience and at the same time is building in the child the concepts, categories and notions the child will need to acquire the language/s spoken around them and then to build their discourse from these deep langue categories.

All that is not only neglected but ignored by Lakoff, just as much as it is by the people of the NLP. This is a serious shortcoming because language, and metaphors are sooner or later always expressed with words, though they could and can be expressed with gestures, or music notes and intervals, rhythms and colors, language is the first structured and articulated product of the mind of a child confronted to and surrounded by the nurturing and caring world of adults he is going to be attached to and he will have to learn how to get detached from. We are far from "independent of language" and "struggle against the physical manipulations of their parents".

Yet this book is essential if you want to really get into the deep debate about the phylogeny and psychogenesis of language. Have a good trip.

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on 27 July 2008
This is one of those books that manages to crystallize half-thought-out ideas and insights that you have but never really manage to develop. And once you get your head around the central ideas you can see how applicable these are in many different bits of the world. Obviously, it all about metaphors, and the early chapters of the book look at the types of metaphors we use and how prevalent they are. This stuff alone is really worth a read just to make yourself aware of just how often we use metaphors, but also how we use many different expressions of the same underlying metaphor. Take the following example from the book:

"Theories (and arguments) are buildings:

"Is that the foundation for your theory? The theory needs more support. We need some more facts or the argument will fall apart. We need to construct a strong argument for that. I haven't figured out yet what the form of the argument will be. Here are some more facts to shore up the theory. We need to buttress the theory with solid arguments. The theory will stand or fall on the strength of that argument. The argument collapsed. They exploded his latest theory. We will show his theory to be without foundation. So far we have put together only the framework of the theory."

Surprising isn't it that we use lots of different expressions based around one metaphor? That leads on to one of the fundamental arguments in the book - that metaphors are not merely linguistic devices, they are conceptual. We don't just use the 'theories are buildings' metaphor to get across our message, we actually think and act in those terms too. This obviously has some pretty major implications for our understanding of 'truth', and indeed the latter part of the book covers this in some detail, particularly the philosophical ramifications.

They also argue that our metaphors are grounded in experience, hence a lot of them are about space, orientation and travel. Think how often you use 'journey' metaphors to describe things, for example. This might be in terms of relationships - we're going our separate ways, the worst is behind us etc - or in terms of work - I personally use the phrase "I'm getting there" a lot in reference to work projects. So really we are perceiving first and describing second in terms of more direct/basic experiences.

The book's afterword is also well worth a read as it describes briefly how metaphor analysis has been applied is various fields from psychology to political science, so if you like the idea there is plenty of other suggested reading material.
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on 15 July 2009
This book was a starting point. It launched the shift in the way we understand the role of metaphor in language and thought. It introduced the idea that we 'live our metaphors': that our metaphors underpin our thoughts and influence our actions, often without us noticing them.

The original 1980 text now seems dated - once you've grasped the central point, it is quite repetitive, and has been superseded by other books.

But I do recommend the substantial 2003 Afterword, which tells the story of what happened next, how the study of metaphor has impacted the understanding of the nature of human thought, and why that should matter to you. And from there, you could go on to explore metaphor even further - for example, with Clean Language: Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds
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on 17 July 2014
Although I'm quite well versed in reading psychology books I found this publication a dry, inaccessible read. There wasn't much rich info, or it was so inscrutably and off-puttingly written that it was lost on me. Not for me at all.
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on 27 July 2015
I thought the book would look at some metaphors we use and suggest how changing the metaphor may affect the way we communicate with each other. The example at the beginning of the book, how an argument may be able to change from the metaphor of war to the metaphor of dance intrigued me and I thought the book would explore that kind of territory. Instead it comes across to me as a more academic study which I'm sure is very well done, but not what I expected or wanted.
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on 26 May 2016
A brilliant book that explores metaphors and how we use them. This has been a starting point for so many modern therapy techniques that it's worth reading if you have any interests in this area. I wouldn't limit it to therapists though. If you are a writer and are serious about your art, this is worth delving into. Metaphors invade almost every aspect of our speech, and using them effectively will lift your writing to a new level!
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on 20 September 2010
There are some books that are just so 'right' you immediately click with them.
This is one such.
The idea is that we live by metaphors - 'war', 'sex', 'up is good' etc etc. This is a trans-national, trans-cultural truth that holds true for the whole species. That as the brain recognises what is going on neural paths are activated, and where the same thing is recognised, the same neural paths are triggered, until they get 'hard-wired' into our consciousness and behaviour.
This was penned back in the '80s, but stays fresh and true in the noughties.
To be honest, it goes a bit funny at the end where they try to guess where future research may take them, as far as I can see wrongly, but the first 90% is so good you can forgive them that!
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on 17 May 2009
This book provides a new and interesting approach to the study of metaphors, which are seen as deeply rooted in our cultural background and not just simple linguistic devices.

The book is intended for the general public, since it's easy to understand, well presented, and concise. However, this feature cannot appeal to a more informed audience, since the author does not provide any footnotes or cross-references to delve more deeply into this interesting matter.

For those who want to get a wider picture, there is the following book by the same author: Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought.
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on 12 May 2017
Wasn't what I thought it was going to be. Although I agree with the underlying thesis, was a bit disappointed with the way it was delivered.
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on 10 May 2016
The best out there for students of all levels, or for those with an interest in breaking down metaphorical underpinnings within culture.
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