George Lakoff, professor of linguistics and cognitive science at the University of California, Berkeley, is a member of a select group of academes whose work transcends their field, and sometimes the academy in total, to reach a more general audience, yet maintains the respect of their colleagues within their field of discipline. His work on metaphor theory transcends linguistics and moves into the realm of literary analysis in More than Cool Reason: A Field Guide to Poetic Metaphor (co-authored by Mark Turner) (1989), and his insights into liberalism and conservatism in his Moral Politics: What Conservatives Know that Liberals Don't (1996) carry his work into the arena of political science. His most recent book, Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought (co-authored by Mark Johnson) (1999) ventures into philosophy and neuroscience while maintaining his roots in metaphor and categorization. His other major works include Metaphors We Live By (1980) (also co-authored by Mark Johnson) and Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind (1987).
It is with great pleasure that we announce Lakoff's return to Arizona State University as the plenary speaker at this year's Graduate Student Linguistics and TESL Symposium on Tuesday March 21 to present his talk entitled Metaphorical Thought: What We Know Now. His work has been influential to ASU faculty and students alike. Several graduate students in linguistics refer to his work in their theses and dissertations, and linguistics professors, both in and out of the English department, use his books in their courses. Karen Adams has used Moral Politics in her Political Discourse graduate seminar, Don Nilsen has used Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things, More Than Cool Reason, and Metaphors We Live By all at various times for his semantics class, and Betsy Brandt, professor of linguistics in the Department of Anthropology, has been using Lakoff's work in her classes since about 1979 and continues to do so.
Before moving to UC Berkeley in 1972, Lakoff had taught at Harvard and University of Michigan. In the early stages of his career, he was one of the developers of transformational grammar and one of the founders of Generative Semantics. In 1975, he changed direction and began his shift towards cognitive science and the philosophy of language. His current research spans the range of cognitive linguistics and includes the nature of the human conceptual systems, the development of Cognitive Social Science, the implications of Cognitive Science for Philosophy, neural foundations of conceptual systems and language, and the cognitive structure.
Lakoff's work in metaphor and prototype theory has set precedents for others in the field. While some metaphor scholars disagree with Lakoff's theories, no discussion of metaphor theory is complete without at least mentioning his work. In Metaphors We Live By, Lakoff introduces metaphors not as the linguistic devices of poets and politicians but as culturally influenced cognitive devices that are manifested in our language, with the statement that "metaphor is pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought and action" (3). He and Johnson use the metaphor ARGUMENT IS WAR to demonstrate the metaphoricity of our conceptual system, explaining that we do not merely talk about arguments in terms of war, but we perceive them in terms of war when we see the person with whom we are arguing as an opponent, attack her position, defend our own stance, and, eventually emerge victorious or defeated.
While the examples used in Metaphors We Live By primarily come from everyday discourse, in More than Cool Reason, Lakoff and Turner turn to poetry to further explain the role of metaphor in our conceptual system. In the introduction, they write "Metaphor is a tool so ordinary that we use it unconsciously and automatically, with so little effort that we hardly notice it. It is omnipresent: metaphor suffuses our thoughts, no matter what we are thinking about" (xi). They explore common metaphors inherent in Western thought, such as LIFE IS A JOURNEY via discussion of the works of Emily Dickinson, Dante, T.S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, and many others.
Rather than changing topics with each new book, Lakoff and his co-writers build upon the foundation set by the prior works to expand previous ideas and introduce new aspects in each new endeavor. As such, Lakoff's discussion of metaphor is continued in Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things, in which he expands the discussion of categorization and prototype theory he and Johnson began in Metaphors We Live By, and in Moral Politics, in which he describes conservatives and liberals by "strict father" and "nurturant parent' models respectively. In Philosophy in the Flesh, in which he and Johnson re-examine the basic concepts of the mind, time, causation, morality, and the self, both metaphors and categories are revisited.
The wide scope of Lakoff's audience has been repeatedly addressed by critics. David E. Leary, in American Scientist, writes that the publication of Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things "should be a major event for cognitive linguistics and should pose a major challenge for cognitive science. In addition, it should have repercussions in a variety of disciplines, ranging from anthropology and psychology to epistemology and the philosophy of science." In a review of the same book for the Journal of Higher Education, Terrence M. Odlin writes "the points Lakoff makes are serious ones and will likely intrigue linguists, psychologists, philosophers, and literary theorists for years to come."
Lakoff's upcoming visit should be of interest not only to linguists, but to English scholars from other disciplines as well. While he refers to himself as a linguist and cognitive scientist, Lakoff's works demonstrate that he is well versed not only in cognitive science, but in literature, philosophy, rhetoric, politics, and psychology as well.
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