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Essay: Metonymy

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Grygiel (2007) indicates that the operation of the process of metonymy is based on broadly understood contiguity of two entities, states or actions. The author (2007) stresses that the working of the mechanism of metonymy rests on physical contiguity as opposed to metaphor where the transfer takes place because of certain existing or imagined likeness, nevertheless, metonymy may sometimes be treated as a subtype of metaphor.

According to Grygiel (2007), the history of English clearly shows that it is very common for language users to take one well-established or easily perceived aspect of something and employ it to stand either for the thing as a whole or for some aspect or part of it (Lakoff 1987:77). The author (2007) points out that it is Taylor (1989:122) who claims that metonymy is a metaphorical process, whereby one entity comes to stand in place of some other entity due to their various intrinsic conceptual relationships, however, it is stressed that the operative basis of metonymy seems to be quite different from that of metaphor, because metonymy is not based on the mechanism of overall resemblance between the metonymic and the original concept, but rather metonymic processes are based on real-world contiguity between objects.

Moreover, Grygiel (2007) indicates that another difference between metaphor and metonymy which seems to have much relevance is stated by Wells (1977). The author (1977) says that the difference between metonymy and metaphor is that the former is much more bound to an extralinguistic situation or, in other words, while most metaphors can be understood fairly well without knowing anything about the extralinguistic situations in which the process of metaphor occurs, metonyms require a knowledge of these circumstances.

As far as conceptual metonymies are concerned, Lakoff and Johnson (1980) claim that, in addition to metaphors, they should be conceived as a related conceptual mechanism that is also central to human thought and language. According to the authors (1980), metonymy has traditionally been analysed as a trope or a purely linguistic device, however, Lakoff and Johnson (1980) argue that metonymy, like metaphor, is conceptual in nature.
What is more, Evans, Bergen and Zinken (2006) point out that some scholars have begun to suggest that metonymy may be more fundamental to conceptual organisation than metaphor and claim that metaphor itself has a metonymic basis.

Evans ang Green (2006) illustrate the phenomenon of metonymy with the example given: ‘The ham sandwich has wandering hands’. According to the authors (2006), we are supposed to imagine that this sentence is uttered by one waitress to another. Evans and Green (2006) indicate that the use of the expression ham sandwich represents an example of metonymy: two entities are associated so that one entity (the item ordered by a customer) stands for the other (the customer). The authors (2006) stress that the example given demonstrates that metonymy is referential in nature. According to Evans and Green (2006), it relates to the use of expressions to ‘pinpoint’ entities in order to talk abot them which shows that metonymy functions differently from metaphor. The authors (2006) highlight that for the sentence ‘The ham sandwich has wandering hands.’to be metaphorical, ham sandwich should be understood in terms of a food item with human qualities, not as an expression referring to the customer who ordered it. Evans and Green (2006) conclude that by means of these two quite distinct interpretations it may be observed that while metonymy is the conceptual relation ‘X stands for Y’, metaphor is the conceptual relation ‘X understood in terms of Y’.
Moreover, authors who applied the interaction of metonymies and metaphors are Ungerer and Schmid (1996). The scholars (1996) deal with the category LOVE which is conceived as an extraordinary case. Ungerer and Schmid (1996) indicate that, as far as this category is concerned, the number of metonymies is relatively small (except for the metonymy based on sexual desire), but with regard to the number of conceptual metaphors LOVE surpasses all other emotions. The authors (1996) observe that many of these metaphors are shared with JOY and, in addition, there is a range of metaphors based on the metonymic relationship with sexual desire (LOVE IS A NUTRIENT, LOVE IS APPETIZING FOOD), and also flattering comparisons with magic and deity (LOVE IS MAGIC, THE OBJECT OF LOVE IS A GODDESS), where, according to Ungerer and Schmid (1996), the poetic source is particularly noticeable. The authors (1996) point out that what is unusual in comparison with JOY is that LOVE is not only structured by ‘positive’ metaphors, but that it also seems to attract a full range of ‘negative’ conceptual metaphors like LOVE IS WAR, LOVE IS HUNTING, LOVE IS A DISEASE. According to Ungerer and Schimd (1996), this also applies to the CONTAINER metaphors, where LOVE is characterised not only as a fluid overflowing from the container, but alternatively by the explosion of the container. The authors (1996) indicate that while it is easy to see how such negative metaphors might be used in poetry to embellish the topic of love, their integration into the conceptual structure of a single category is less feasible.
Ungerer and Schmid (1996) conclude that, as far as the interaction of metaphors and metonymies is concerned, there seems to be a principle of compensation at work which trades off metaphors and metonymies against each other. The authors (1996) observe that while ANGER strikes a balance between the two cognitive processes, FEAR largely depends on metonymies, and JOY and LOVE rely much more on metaphors for their conceptual structure.
Finally, Ungerer and Schmid (1996) point out that in spite of the wealth of metaphors available for LOVE and JOY, these metaphors alone are not able to provide a tidy conceptual structure for either of these emotion categories, so they do not really compensate for the lack of metonymies observed for JOY and LOVE. The authors (1996) suggest that taken together, metaphors and metonymies may supply a certain conceptual substance to these emotion categories, however, they cannot be used as a hard-and-fast distinction between them in the same way that attributes can help to distinguish between object categories like CHAIR and TABLE.


Let us start with an overview of the historical shifts and changes in the status of synecdoche as it is presented in Blank and Koch (1999). The authors (1999) claim that in Antiquity, namely in the work of Aristotle, synecdoche was still studied as part of metaphor, or rather, the three main figures of speech: metaphor, metonymy and synecdoche, were not yet strictly differentiated. However, Blank and Koch (1999) observe that in classical rhetoric scholars distinguished between three, sometimes four, main tropes or master tropes: metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche and irony. According to the authors (1999), synecdoche itself was seen as subsuming various subtypes and the kernel consisted for a long time of two subtypes of synecdoches: the part for whole one and the genus for species one (and vice versa), with the part-whole subtype being the most stable part of this typology.

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