A Reef of Dead Metaphors – Guy Deutscher
What is the central contention of the essay?
“Metaphors are used because the only way we have of expanding our expressive range to encompass abstract concepts is to draw on concrete terms.”
- That the spread of metaphors reflects the way that language change is spread.
- That language changes and erodes, like metaphors turn into dead metaphors, but that this happens in all languages, therefore erosion in language should not be seen as a negative thing as it allows us to expand our language in order to encompass and describe abstract concepts.
- He claims that all language is metaphorical, being made of a “reef of dead metaphors”.
- Deutscher is reluctant to believe that language is deteriorating. He does acknowledge that there seem to be some long-term trends, such as the loss of complex grammatical forms, however he claims that our language is expanding as well as eroding.
- Overall, Deutscher’s idea is that language change, here exemplified by the erosion of metaphors into dead metaphors, is useful and builds the basis of modern language.
What is the author arguing for?
Deutscher is a radical prescriptivist as he talks about how language change is necessary and good for our language, as erosion allows us to create new meanings which are more useful to us.
What is the author arguing against?
Deutscher is arguing against the idea that language change should be perceived as something negative, as our entire language is built on a “reef of dead metaphors”, and that if language was static we would find it more difficult to express abstract concepts.
What examples does the author use?
“ground breaking”, “put forward”, “tough”, “clear”, “go along”, “leaked”, “erupted”, “holding back”, “growth”, “on top of the facts”
Of what are these examples evidence?
These examples are evidence of how we use metaphors in everyday speech without even realising it. Such examples are called “dead metaphors” as their literal meanings have been ignored or forgotten. These are the metaphors most commonly used in spoken language, and Deutscher uses them to show the reader that these dead, but extremely useful metaphors have only come about due to language change.
What other theorists does the author refer to (or could refer to)?
Deutscher does not refer to any other theorists in this essay; however he could refer to linguists such as Jean Aitchison, as she takes a similar stance on the subject, believing that language change is inevitable and is a good thing as it enables a language to suit its users. Deutscher could also refer to Lynne Truss, whose stance is completely different from his own. She feels that language change is a bad thing and that everyone should adhere to the rules of language and should be unwelcoming of change.
List six important quotations from the essay and explain why they are important
“Metaphors are used because the only way we have of expanding our expressive range to encompass abstract concepts is to draw on concrete terms.” ,“We use metaphors not because of any literary leanings or artistic ambitions, but quite simply because metaphor is the chief mechanism through which we can describe and even grasp abstraction.”– Deutscher points out how useful metaphors, and therefore language change, are to our everyday expression of ideas.
“This expressive urge also drives us to use the same images again and again, but through such over-use the metaphors are bleached of their original vitality and eventually fade and die.”– Deutscher explains how metaphors turn into dead metaphors which are used every day without us noticing it.
“…tracing a stream of metaphors that runs right through language and flows from the concrete to the abstract. In this constant surge, the simplest and sturdiest of words are swept along, one after another, and carried toward abstract meanings. As these words drift downstream, they are bleached of their original vitality and turn into pale lifeless terms for abstract concepts — the substance from which the structure of language is formed. And when at last the river sinks into the sea, these spent metaphors are deposited, layer after layer, and so the structure of language grows, as a reef of dead metaphors.”- Here, Deutscher points out how the erosion of language is the basis of our language as it is today. He highlights the fact that erosion of older language creates room for growth and expansion so that language can suit the user’s needs better.
“try thinking about it this way: why are graphs plotted to show that more is up and less is down? In theory, there is no particular reason why graphs shouldn’t be drawn with ‘down’ meaning ‘more’, and ‘up’ meaning ‘less’.”- Deutscher points out the fact that metaphors affect the logical way in which we think and see the world
“If one only pauses to think about these images, one is aware that it’s really a steak that is tough, not legislation, or that what really rises is water, not unemployment.”- This highlights Deutscher’s opinion that if we words such as ‘tough’ or ‘rise’ are actually used incorrectly, therefore why is it not O.K for us to use other language incorrectly?