This is an excerpt form a piece I’m currently writing on the function of metaphor within everyday language. It is also the subject of my essay for my degree course which is taking priority at the moment as I have only week before the cut-off date for submission. Despite my lack of references in this little snippet, what I propose here is not mere speculation, it is based on tried and tested theory and observation pioneered by many of the major contributors to the understanding and development of sociolinguistics over the last sixty years or so. The notion that all language is essentially metaphorical and thus highly ambiguous and subjective is one that I find very compelling and a conclusion that I have arrived at in my own work over the years. It’s good to know that I am backed by the academic community in my thinking, makes me feel a little less new-agey (Brrr… as my friend Argus would say).
The strange thing is that the moment you ask what a fig is, the concept of the fig as a definite article (I mean this allegorically rather than linguistically. Also feel free to replace the object ‘fig’ with any concept you like…) is destabilised, thus its believability is brought into question. New metaphors are then required in order to clarify its apparent objectivity, which in effect changes it’s definition to encompass further ideas of what this object, or concept may be. We thus begin to see that expressing anything definite within language is a task fraught with difficulties, and relies on much implied knowledge of shared social and cultural references and of linguistic conventions, not to mention personal subjective evaluations of what we are hearing or reading weighed against all of the above. That any two people could describe a fig in the same way, based on the same subjective and objective evaluations of it is highly unlikely, in fact it would probably be impossible. It says that any assumed notion of fact, truth or absolutism is in fact highly subjective, and in fact not a truth at all, but a convincing fabrication. Convincing because where you have a consensus in amongst the multitude of social and cultural references that you could possible draw from, then it could be said that you thus have a convergence of opinion. And like the old adage says: “There is strength in numbers”.
However that is all that beliefs are, metaphorical structures that are shared among social groups wishing to maintain a degree of cohesiveness, because it is to the personal benefit of each individual member. Their relationships and positions are reinforced and given evaluative meaning by sharing concepts and ideas, even if that benefit is at the cost of something else. We use metaphor as a means of enacting self-preservation, but also a way of creatively exploring new ideas and ways of looking at things. Almost in contradiction to its cohesive nature, metaphors also work to break with convention through their ambiguity and evasiveness. They are a psychological and linguistic paradox, a way of keeping with convention through recognised structure, but at the same time allowing us to creatively explore our imaginations through the lack of specificity. As many prominent sociolinguists will agree, metaphors are intrinsic to the survival and the success of the human race (Guy Cook, Professor of Language, Open University).