Have you ever thought about metaphors? What their purpose is, how they differ in various languages? Or even how they help us to understand the world?
Metaphors are so commonly used in everyday language that they are often overlooked –but they play a very important role in helping us to understand the world and think more deeply about things around us. They explain complex concepts in a creative way and help us to connect with each other. Even the word “metaphor” is a metaphor; in Greek, it means “to carry across or beyond.”
Metaphors are a key concept when it comes to learning something new – by comparing it to something we already know, it makes it easier for us to understand. Often, metaphors are used to illustrate emotions or ideas. In English, the phrase “my heart is broken” depicts sadness; in French, “I have a peach” expresses excitement. Common metaphors vary among different languages, but their function is the same: to express to others what you’re feeling in a creative way so that they can understand you or your experiences better.
There aren’t universal metaphors that work in every language. But there are “near universals” that appear in multiple languages, even those of different language families. For example: the metaphor of vision to mean understanding or conveying intimacy by connecting it with warmth are common across many languages. Since hugging and being physically close to others creates warmth, it’s not surprising that this comes up across various language families.
Some languages, while not having the same metaphors, have similar ones. In Dutch, you may say someone has the “skin of an elephant” – in English, this equivalent would be saying “you have thick skin.” In English, when we refer to something as extremely unlikely, we may say “when pigs fly.” In French, this phrase would instead be “when hens will have teeth.”
Metaphors often relate to daily life, and so the culture of a country can have a significant influence on its metaphors. In French, there is an abundance of food-related metaphors. “Telling salads” means “telling tall tales,” while “mind your onions” means “mind your own business.” Often, speakers will draw on something that is culturally important in their metaphors.
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