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Metaphorically Speaking

“Metaphor is for most people a device of the poetic imagination and the rhetorical flourish—a matter of extraordinary rather than ordinary language. Moreover, metaphor is typically viewed as characteristic of language alone, a matter of words rather than thought or action. For this reason, most people think they can get along perfectly well without metaphor. We have found, on the contrary, that metaphor is pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought and action. Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature.”

Lakoff and Johnson, Metaphors We Live By (2003)
Author James Geary speaks about a fascinating feature of language and thought: the metaphor. According to Geary, metaphor doesn’t just enliven speech; metaphor can influence the way we think and the decisions we make.

A challenge in the recognition of language as a way of knowing is the use of metaphor in communicative acts.  A metaphor is the substitution of one idea for another to suggest resemblances or common connotative qualities. In this section, you will see that metaphor can also refer more broadly to a wide body of figures of speech that involve comparison, non-real or non-literal association. On occasion a well chosen metaphor is just what is required to convey meaning: at other times, it seems strange to assume that we can gain knowledge or understanding through language that is literally not true. The idea that our way of thinking about the world and expressing our reality is done in metaphor is one you can discuss after reading a couple of the articles in this section:

Class Activity 1: footballing metaphors

This snippet shows how Benzema is given magical properties through metaphorical language.

Elite sports men and women are often described metaphorically by writers and commentators as if they are in some way ‘different’ to ordinary mortals. They may be hyperbolised or metaphorised into superstars, warriors, or even deities to worship.

In January 2020, Four Four Two Magazine published the results of a poll into who is the world’s best male and female football players. The final article is a rich source of sporting metaphors of the kind commonly used in sports’ writing. Print out a copy of this article, and read the descriptions of the different players. How does the article use metaphorical language – including simile, idiom, hyperbole and straight metaphors – to present elite sportspeople?

Class Activity 2: nobel lecture

Toni Morrison died on August 5th, 2019 at the age of 88. Morrison’s books changed lives, capturing American life and its history in a peerless way — her works are so loved and resonant that they often (rightfully) eclipse the awards and recognition we bestow upon them. In 1993, Morrison was awarded the most prestigious award on the planet. She was the first African American woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize, for “novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import.”

In accepting that award, Morrison, keenly and eloquently, described the importance of language in our lives. Her lecture is a fable about the power of language to elucidate and cloud, to oppress and liberate, to honour and sully, and to both quantify and be incapable of capturing a human experience. It’s the way humans wield their powerful tool of language that makes any form of expression so magical, Morrison explains.

“We die,” she says. “That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” 

Perhaps there’s no better way to remember Morrison than how clearly and beautifully she understood the power of language. Listen to and read her speech. Find examples of metaphor and discuss the meaning of her speech with your classmates:

Learner Portfolio

Choose a sportsperson (or, if you prefer, a musician, writer or actor) you admire. Write a new profile of that person in the metaphorical style you have learned about in this section. Think about how phrases such as ‘golden touch’, ‘genius’, and ‘out of this world’ can paint a person in a certain light. Before you write, you might like to browse this special World Soccer magazine edition: The Making of Messi, where you’ll find plenty of stylistic features for you to mimic.

Paper 1 Text Type: Sports Writing

At the end of your course you will be asked to analyse unseen texts (1 at Standard Level and 2 at Higher Level) in an examination. You will be given a guiding question that will focus your attention on formal or stylistic elements of the text(s), and help you decode the text(s)’ purpose(s). Sports writing is not quite a text type in itself, more a category of writing that encompasses sports reports, magazine articles, blogs, and interviews, to name just the most obvious. Use these practice texts to familiarise yourself with the different features of sports writing and add them to your Learner Portfolio; you will want to revise text types thoroughly before your Paper 1 exam. You can find more information – including text type features and sample Paper 1 analyses – by visiting 20/20. Read through one or two of the exemplars, then choose a new paper and have a go at writing your own Paper 1 analysis response:


Body of Work: The Totally Football Show

On a momentous day in December 2020, Argentinian Footballer Diego Maradona passed away. His death was marked by a period of mourning, not only in the football world, but in his home country and beyond. Maradona inspired more devotion than any other player in the game’s history.

In this episode of The Totally Football Show, regular host James Richardson is joined by Karen Carney, Rory Smith and Adrian Clarke to mark this occasion and to discuss Maradona’s legacy. In terms of your study of language, this episode is a rich source of data about the way words can be used metaphorically in conversation. Begin by listening to the episode embedded above, recording notable uses of language, then listen to one or two more episodes in the same series, which can then be counted as a Body of Work.

Towards Assessment: Individual Oral

“Supported by an extract from one non-literary text and one from a literary work, students will offer a prepared response of 10 minutes, followed by 5 minutes of questions by the teacher, to the following prompt: Examine the ways in which the global issue of your choice is presented through the content and form of two of the texts that you have studied. (40 marks)

IB Language and Literature Guide

An extract from The Totally Football Show would make a great non-literary text to use in this assessed activity. The author of the work would be ‘James Richardson’ and the podcast is produced by ‘Muddy Knees Media.’ Depending on the direction of your research, you could investigate the Field of Inquiry of Culture, Identity and Community, and discuss the global issue of ‘celebrity worship.’ In this kind of investigation, you can explore how the way people write and speak about celebrities reveals certain ideas about other people. Here are some ideas which may be worth pursuing; as always, speak to your teacher before you start to plan in too much detail:

  • Broken April by Ismail Kadere – Mark considers himself the master of all he surveys; Gjorg considers himself insignificant and compares himself to a pebble on a burial mound; Bessian and Diana are treated lavishly by the Prince of Orosh. On the contrary, scientists and academics are scorned and treated with suspicion in the villages beyond the castle. Find an extract and consider the issue of celebrity worship in light of how people view themselves and other people on the high plateau.
  • G.B. Shaw’s Pygmalion – where the podcast places Maradona on a pedestal, Shaw elevates Higgins above the realm of mere mortals, especially in his opinion of himself and his work! You might also like to consider what the opening scene reveals about how people in the upper class view themselves and other people.
  • Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice – could self-worship be a form of celebrity worship? If so, examine the arrogance of the Duke of Morocco in the first of the casket scenes in light of this global issue.

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