THE ROLE OF CULTURAL BACKGROUND IN UNDERSTANDING METONYMIC TARGET MEANINGS
Published: 7 Oct 2019
Abstract: According to the standard approach in cognitive linguistics, metonymy is a pervasive and powerful conceptual mechanism, a mapping of knowledge from a source domain to a target domain. In metonymy, the source concept serves as a reference point for attaining the intended target. Brone and Feyaerts (2003: 23) show that reference point reasoning consists of focusing on a salient, easily coded element (the reference point) in order to establish mental access to another, less salient conceptual entity (the target) which is generally harder to code. As has been shown in cognitive linguistics literature, universal human knowledge and bodily-grounded knowledge are essential for the interpretation of metonymy. However, there are some cases that are much less discussed; these are metonymies where the source concept encodes cultural knowledge that is crucial for the interpretation of the metonymic process. Such cases may require an increased cognitive effort and, if the interlocutor does not possess the necessary background knowledge, he cannot draw appropriate inferences automatically and successful communication may become confusing The aim of this paper is to investigate the role of cultural background in understanding metonymic target meanings in the literary discourse. The analysis focuses on fragments selected from a famous British contemporary novel and includes instances of exophoric reference, i.e. how metonymy is used to refer to objects and actions taking place outside the text (Littlemore, 2015:82) The analysis presents various conceptual configurations or Idealized Cognitive Models: PART FOR WHOLE, CATEGORY AND PROPERTY and PRODUCTION) and reinforces the idea that the cognitive principle of relevance (saliency) governs the selection of the original, creative metonymic vehicle. It brings evidence for the need of shared background knowledge (by the reader and the author) where universal, embodied knowledge and cultural knowledge are equally important.
Keywords: source concept, target concept, metonymic model, cultural knowledge
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