Metaphor in EAP and ESP - Multi-word units and metaphor in ESP

Vocabulary and English for Specific Purposes Research - Averil Coxhead 2018

Metaphor in EAP and ESP
Multi-word units and metaphor in ESP

EAP research suggests metaphor is also important for second language learners because metaphors can represent over 4% of an academic lecture (Littlemore, Chen, Liyen Tang, Koester & Barnden, 2010). These researchers found that metaphors can carry important elements of meaning such as evaluation in academic speech, and that second language learners find metaphor difficult to identify and understand. Such information on the function and meanings of metaphor in context is useful for second language learners and teachers in ESP.

Metaphor research in EAP and ESP has focused predominantly on the occurrence of metaphor in particular disciplines, such as Medicine, Economics (White, 2003; Charteris-Black, 2000) and Engineering. Computer Science is a field which has been noted for its extensive use of metaphor, particularly where everyday words are used for dealing with complex and abstract concepts (Izwaini, 2003). Some examples of metaphor in Computer Science include common words such as file, folder, button and save. In health communication, Ferguson (2013) discusses a range of metaphors, such as medicine is war, in which the enemy is disease and the doctors (fighters) use technology as weapons to fight the war on behalf of the patient. Another metaphor in health communication is the body is a machine, whereby the heart is referred to as a pump, the brain is a computer and other body parts might be referred to as the plumbing. Metaphors in Medicine have been assigned functions by van Tongeren (1997, cited in Ferguson, 2013 p. 245). These functions include filling a vocabulary gap, explaining medical concepts (for example to patients) and exploring new concepts which do not have ’well-established terms’ (Ferguson, 2013, p. 245).

There are several examples from business studies of ESP research into metaphor. One example is Charteris-Black and Musolff (2003), who compared the use of metaphors for euro trading in two corpora of financial reporting, one British and the other German. In the English data, three main clusters of metaphorical meaning were found. These three clusters, in order of frequency are as follows. The value of the euro is an entity that moves up and down. The second cluster concerns states of health or strength, and the third can be summed up as euro trading is physical combat (italics added). There are two main subtypes of combat: boxing and general war metaphors. Examples of these three clusters include low/lower, fall/fell, downside for movement (p. 160); support, weak and ailing for health/strength (p. 163); and batter, hit and impact for physical combat (p. 165). According to the authors, both corpora reflect movement and health or strength, but the German data showed more concern with stability than combat. It is interesting to note that health metaphors are used more often in winter than in summer (Boers, 1997). Pérez and de los Rios (2015) explored metaphor in Finance in Spanish and English corpora. They found around 34% on average more use of metaphor in the English corpus and differences in the amount of metaphor in the corpora that refer to Finance in terms of a path, health and war, a living organism, or other references such as including colours, games and performance.

Skorczynska Sznajder (2010) examines the use of war, health and sports metaphors in a business English textbook corpus and a business journal article/business periodical corpus and finds implications for how learners respond to metaphor in language and in thought:

Approaches to specialist vocabulary instruction through conceptual metaphors are necessary to enhance students’ understanding of a discipline, especially if the learners are to be aware of possible social effects derived from conceptualizing a particular discipline through ideologically-motivated metaphors, as in the case of war metaphors in business and economic discourse.

(Skorczynska Sznajder, 2010, p. 40)

Boers (1997) found that exposure to health, fitness and fighting metaphors affected the language used by 100 business and economics university students in a problem-solving activity and, to some extent, the decisions they made in response to a socio-economic issue. Pardillos (2016) recommends raising awareness of legal metaphors in ESP, and uses a qualitative approach of judgements by multilingual legal specialists of items such as burden of proof and beyond reasonable doubt in sentences in English and whether there are similar metaphors in their languages.

Metaphor in spoken academic English has been investigated in several studies. Littlemore et al. (2010) investigated metaphor in four university lectures from a spoken academic corpus and found that the average metaphoric density was 4.1%. Out of 132 (on average) items that second language participants found problematic in a lecture, 50 (38%) were used metaphorically. Of those problematic ones, the students were not able to explain the meaning of almost 50% of the metaphors that were used.

These metaphors had three main functions in the university lectures: evaluation, discourse organisation and the expression of key ideas. The evaluative function was used to decide on the importance, centrality or worth of key ideas, while the expression of these ideas in metaphor was related more to explaining particularly difficult concepts or points in an argument. Littlemore (2001) found comprehension problems for 20 Bangladeshi postgraduate students in lectures because the students often missed the evaluative component of lectures, concluding that students who are not able to follow the metaphors are likely to misunderstand the lecture or not understand the key points at all. Littlemore et al. (2010: 202), therefore suggest that training second language speakers to recognise and understand metaphor in academic lectures ’is no luxury’ in EAP classes.