A Good Metaphor is a Dead Metaphor: A Classroom Perspective

Igor Pustovoit, Hofstra University

In this presentation I examine Russian metaphoric devices in order to stress their importance for the Russian-language classroom. Metaphor is considered by most people to be a common trope—a matter of poetic-rhetorical rather than ordinary language, related to the processes of defamiliarization of nouns and personification of verbs (Wales, 1989). However, as shown by Lakoff and Johnson (1980), metaphor is an inseparable part of communication that affects even the most mundane topics. Metaphor can also reveal a great deal of the conceptual system of a given nation, and this must be treated as important device in cultural studies.

In terms of FLT, metaphor is similar to such concepts as formality, politeness, and vagueness, which, as was previously shown (Pustovoit 1997, 1998, 1999), are either ignored in foreign-language methodology or receive a rather narrow interpretation. My belief is that the aforementioned communicative categories must be studied along with traditional grammatical categories, the latter playing a subordinate role as a means of achieving the desired effect.

In this presentation I approach metaphor from the perspective of the suggested trilateral scheme of Russian styles: Formal—Informal—Literary (Pustovoit, forthcoming). Emphasis is made on language metaphors (Skljarevskaja 1987) that are lacking the qualities of striking aesthetic devices, and especially on dead metaphors used in everyday communication. This presentation provides a number of examples of metaphoric use that, for the most part, are not even perceived as such by speakers.

I also show that metaphoric devices penetrate even formal communication, which, at first glance, seems to be a violation of the Maxim of Quality (Grice 1968). In this case metaphor is used mainly as a politeness strategy in order to win the interlocutor’s approval. Parenthetic devices serving as warning signs often accompany such usage (tak skazat′, tak nazyvaemyj, etc.). Two types of parallels become apparent: on one hand, such introduction is similar to that of new terminology, and on the other, it is reminiscent of foreigner talk. Finally, cases of seemingly disrupted conceptual system in modern colloquial style are discussed (indeks upal vs. den′gi upali na sčet).