CTIS PhD Masterclass 10 December 2020, 11:00 GMT, via Zoom

Dr Mario Bisiada, Universitat Pompeu Fabra (Spain)

A social constructionist approach to studying frames and metaphors in translation

The cognitivist approach to metaphor based on Lakoff and colleagues is doubtlessly the most widespread framework in studies of metaphor, to the extent that researchers embarking on studies of metaphor almost feel compelled to adopt it (witness its rather brazen self-renaming as “contemporary metaphor theory”). This is surprising because outside the domain of discourse and corpus-assisted translation studies, Lakoff and followers’ cognitivist theory and radical rejection of semantics has met with severe criticism, on such simple grounds as logical errors, straw man argumentation, serious misreadings of sources and vague theorising. While even most researchers working in the cognitive paradigm now agree that Conceptual Metaphor Theory (CMT) in its original form is untenable, the mentalist assignment of meaning to individual mental representations remains largely unchallenged, and even the most recent theories seem to be guided by the intent to salvage CMT by extending and complicating it with ever more levels of analysis and terminology to address the lack of space for cultural differences in it. On the most basic level, if meaning is based on mental representations based on individual embodied experience, how we can we know that our meanings are the same as someone else’s? Thought is considered to be “imaginative”, in that those concepts which are not directly grounded in experience employ metaphor to allow for abstract thought, but if I have never experienced something, directly or indirectly by being told, can I imagine it?

In this Masterclass, I want to reflect on my search for an adequate theoretical framework for my project "Frames and Narratives of Migration and of Translation in Europe", drawing on Discourse and Translation Studies.

Guided by the belief that it’s better to challenge established views than to dogmatically accept them, I adopt a provocative position by challenging the cognitivist approach to metaphor and to meaning in general. I will summarise existing critiques of Conceptual Metaphor Theory, arguing that Translation Studies provides an especially useful approach because it forces us to look at the linguistic data available to us rather than at constructs of mind representations. I will then present another approach suggested in the literature and connect it to a social constructionist view of language to support a social discursive alternative to the cognitive paradigm: I will argue, and hope to discuss in the group, that such an approach is better equipped to explain meaning. If meaning is only in the discourse (Teubert 2010) and discourse constructs social reality, this poses fundamental questions for translation: does meaning reside in the mind or in social practice? What would a social constructionist approach demand of translators?


To prepare for the class, please read Thibodeau et al (2019) as a general and neutral introduction to metaphor, and Schäffner (2017) as an overview of metaphor in translation. Also, read McGlone (2007) for a fundamental criticism of Lakoff and colleagues’ cognitivist approach to metaphor. If you’re interested, you can also read Gibbs’ (2011) critique of that paper, as well as McGlone’s (2011) response to it, both in Discourse Processes, volume 48(8).


McGlone, Matthew S. (2007) What is the explanatory value of a conceptual metaphor? Language & Communication 27. 109−126.

Schäffner, Christina. (2017) Metaphor in translation. In Elena Semino & Zsófia Demjén (eds) The Routledge Handbook of Metaphor and Language. London: Routledge. 247−262.

Thibodeau, Paul H, Teenie Matlock & Stephen Flusberg (2019) The role of metaphor in communication and thought. Language and Linguistics Compass 13(5).

Speaker bio

Mario Bisiada is Tenure-Track Lecturer in Translation and Language Studies at Pompeu Fabra University, Barcelona (Spain). He received his PhD from the University of Manchester for a corpus-based study of language change in German through translation from English, with translation as a site of language contact. He has gone on to publish a range of articles on the linguistic influence of editors on the translated text, where he argues for a greater awareness of mediators in corpus studies of translated language. His more recent research deals with cross-linguistic discourse studies of metaphors and hashtags, where he published on the emergence and use of the “homework” metaphor and on different framings of the #MeToo hashtag in German, English and Spanish newspaper discourse. Starting in 2020, he is principal investigator of the Frames and Narratives of Migration and of Translation in Europe project, which investigates the role of translation in cross-linguistically existent discourse patterns on migration.

Academic profile at www.mariobisiada.de
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