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Unlocking Some of the Secrets of the Heart: A View on Conceptual
Gisele Wemeck Divardin

When we think of metaphors, elaborate, fancy expressions out of literature books readily come to our minds, which result from a creative and conscious effort, and whose sole purpose is to substitute a literal expression and has the function to make a comparison:

Tua cabeça é uma dália que se desfolha em meus braços. (Mário da Silva Brito)

For what is death but an eternal sleep? (Aristophanes)

In headaches and in worry vaguely life leaks away. ( W.H.Auden).

This idea of metaphor as a mere substitute for a literal expression for aesthetic reasons is looked upon nowadays as reductionist because studies show that our everyday language, both Portuguese and English, is packed with expressions that, at first sight, do not seem metaphorical at all:

Perdi muito tempo procurando meus óculos.
Você deve reservar mais tempo para cuidar da sua saúde.
Eu gastei muito tempo para corrigir as provas.
Não invista muito tempo nesta garota.
Você está desperdiçando o seu tempo.
Can you spare me a couple of minutes?
I can’t afford taking so much time off work.
I saved a lot of time.

On a closer examination, however, the expressions above listed show us that the words in bold type, in each of the expressions, are not being used in their literal sense. For example, we know that big investors can lose money on the stock market; you can save/put aside some money to travel; perhaps you cannot afford a brand new car or spend a great deal of money on a new dress. These words in their literal sense, as we have just seen, are used to talk about money and not time as in the sentences first mentioned. It is money that we usually lose, save, put aside, give, spend, invent and splurge.

How then to explain the reason we use language from one domain (time) to talk about another one (money)?

In 1980, the American linguist George Lakoff and the philosopher Mark Johnson published the book “Metaphors We Live By” where they say that certain abstract concepts, such as human emotions, mental processes, time, personal relationships, etc., that are difficult to be understood in their own terms are, most of the time, understood via metaphor, that is, indirectly. Therefore, the essence of metaphor, in the experientialist view of Lakoff and Johnson, is “to understand and experience one thing in terms of another” ( Lakoff and Johnson, 1980).

With that in mind, the sentences we looked at, that is, those which contain the non-literal use of the verbs perder, reservar, gastar, invistir, desperdiçar, spare, afford and save and don’t strike us as metaphorical anymore due to the process of institutionalization, are only generated because there are metaphors in our conceptual system that, in turn, are the result of our interaction with the world we live in. In other words, “metaphor is possible in language because it is present in the mind” (Ponterotto, 1994).

Metaphor, which was once looked upon as a purely linguistic phenomenon, became part and parcel of our conceptual system. Therefore, we can say that “two levels of metaphor are distinguished: conceptual and linguistic metaphors” (Deignan et al.,1997). The former, which we are hardly conscious of, are reflected on our conventional way of talking about things, be it by means of what is traditionally regarded as metaphorical language as in He is a peach of a boy, in which the word peach is not used in its literal sense, or by language which is regarded, in the traditional view, to be literal, i.e. Eu gastei muito tempo para corrigir as provas. The exercises on the handouts prepared for this workshop deal with metaphors in both senses.
Since our conceptual system is something we have no direct access to, Lakoff and Johnson make use of something palpable, tangible such as linguistic expressions to gain access to it because they are believed to be “the spoken and written realizations of a conceptual metaphor” (Deignan et al. 1997).

And going back to the six linguistic expressions, which were listed at the beginning, we can claim that, in the light of the theory of Lakoff and Johnson, the concept of time is systematically and regularly expressed linguistically in terms of the concept of money. Therefore, we have the conceptual metaphor TIME IS MONEY. This metaphor, as well as many others that have been revealed in studies inspired by the theory of Lakoff and Johnson such as Kovecses (1986), on the concept of anger, pride and love, Bowles (1995), about the relation between enthusiasm/heat and conflict/ heat, Lima (1995), about the metaphorical use of the word head, Bowles (1997), about the characterization of censure, Divardin (2000), about the metaphorical use of the word heart/coração in Portuguese and English (from which most of the sentences and conceptual metaphors for this workshop were taken) , not only generate linguistic expressions, but also seem to have a great influence in the way we think and act. Therefore, metaphor is not only a matter of words; it is a cognitive operation of extreme importance that we make use everyday in our attempt to understand better the world and the experiences we live here.

After paving my way with a few stepping stones that, hopefully, help you to understand the most important points of the theory that serves as the rationale behind the activities presented in the workshop (to be listed later), let us now examine, as a means of illustrating what has been said so far, the following set of English and Portuguese expressions, in all of which the word heart is used metaphorically, so as to determine what they have in common, i.e., what allows them to be grouped together because, at first glance, they seem to belong to a chaotic and disorganized universe:

Ela tem mágoa no coração.
Ele saiu do meu coração.
Nossos corações estão transbordando de felicidade.
The news filled my heart with joy.
No doubt that a mother’s heart is big and always has room for one more.
She poured out her heart.

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