Scholarly article on topic 'Metaphorical Competence in Professional Communication'

Metaphorical Competence in Professional Communication Academic research paper on "Languages and literature"

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{"Metaphorical competence" / "professional communication" / "LSP competences" / "multilingual setting" / "background knowledge"}

Abstract of research paper on Languages and literature, author of scientific article — Larisa Ilinska, Marina Platonova, Tatjana Smirnova

Abstract Nowadays the ability to discuss complex scientific and technical phenomena metaphorically is considered to be a compulsory faculty for successful professional interaction. It incorporates the ability of communication participants to understand metaphorical meaning construct, trace its implementation in LSP context, and transfer its meaning to other languages, preserving the effect and associations triggered by lexical items based on metaphoric meaning transfer. The paper aims at describing complex organization of metaphorical competence and at investigating its role in the process of professional communication, paying special attention to the differences in application and challenges associated with its use in the multilingual setting.

Academic research paper on topic "Metaphorical Competence in Professional Communication"


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Procedía - Social and Behavioral Sciences 236 (2016) 254 - 259

International Conference on Communication in Multicultural Society, CMSC 2015, 6-8 December

2015, Moscow, Russian Federation

Metaphorical competence in professional communication

Larisa Ilinska, Marina Platonova, Tatjana Smirnova*

Riga Technical University, Faculty of E-Learning Technologies and Humanities, 1 Kalku Str., LV-1658, Latvia


Nowadays the ability to discuss complex scientific and technical phenomena metaphorically is considered to be a compulsory faculty for successful professional interaction. It incorporates the ability of communication participants to understand metaphorical meaning construct, trace its implementation in LSP context, and transfer its meaning to other languages, preserving the effect and associations triggered by lexical items based on metaphoric meaning transfer. The paper aims at describing complex organization of metaphorical competence and at investigating its role in the process of professional communication, paying special attention to the differences in application and challenges associated with its use in the multilingual setting.

© 2016 The Authors. Published by ElsevierLtd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of the National Research Nuclear University MEPhI (Moscow Engineering Physics Institute). Keywords: Metaphorical competence; professional communication; LSP competences; multilingual setting; background knowledge

1. Introduction

Growing complexity of information communicated in the area of engineering calls for the necessity to be proficient not only in the particular scientific domain, i.e. being able to profoundly understand the content communicated, but also to develop covert information management skills, and that implies the ability for code switching, deeper concept mapping and knowledge of the modes of information transfer. The latter is of utmost importance given that the tendency for information compression governed by the principles of linguistic economy is becoming even more evident in the professional texts.

The mechanisms aimed at increasing the density of information communicated within one lexical slot may differ, but they all provide certain reference to the hidden content, which is decoded only on the basis of the meaning of

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +3-712-670-5473; fax: +3-716-708-9539. E-mail address:

1877-0428 © 2016 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of the National Research Nuclear University MEPhI (Moscow Engineering Physics Institute). doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2016.12.023

particular scientific and/or technical phenomena. Thus, in the process of acquisition of language for specific purposes (LSP) it is necessary to address the issues of information foregrounding, developing not only such relevant skills as cognitive, analytical and critical thinking, but also to pursue excellence in abstract thinking and figurative language use.

Nowadays, the ability to construe complex scientific and technical phenomena in metaphorical categories is considered to be a compulsory faculty for successful communication. It incorporates not just the ability to recognize dead metaphors in the professional setting, but also the ability to understand the mechanisms of metaphorical meaning construct, trace its implementation in the micro and macro context of communication, and, what is even more important, to transfer its meaning to other languages preserving, if possible, the associations and aesthetic effect communicated by the lexical item.

The increasing popularity of the idea of introducing 'the metaphorical or figurative competence' (Levorato, 1993, p. 122) as the compulsory element of academic discourse is also rooted in the necessity to educate and train specialists adopting the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) paradigm in the tertiary education, which implies training the "literacy that enables the creative and comprehensive issue resolution through increasing the interest in and the understanding of the fused knowledge... in the various fields related to science technology on the basis of experience about the contents fused in various fields through creative designs and emotional touches" (Kim and Park, 2013, p. 430). Therefore, nowadays the ability to approach scientific phenomena and technological challenges creatively and to communicate technical information in natural and exact sciences employing the mechanisms of the figurative language is a trait confirming full professional proficiency.

The aim of the present research is to analyze how to teach and develop metaphorical competence in a multilingual classroom uniting participants - exchange students within Erasmus programme, non-native speakers of English from different countries - in the context of LSP acquisition, with the focus on teaching English for Specific Purposes. The advanced level of metaphorical competence is an inherent element of both general and professional foreign language proficiency. Within the framework of the present paper, we concentrate on describing the multilayered structure of the metaphorical competence analyzing its role in the process of professional communication, second language acquisition and development of background knowledge in the multicultural setting.

2. Metaphorical competence: theoretical framework

In the 20th century, metaphorical competence was defined as the capacity to use and paraphrase a metaphor, to appreciate metaphor's effectiveness, to produce a metaphor appropriate to a given context, and to evaluate the appropriateness of metaphoric expressions used by other communication participants, cf. (Gardner and Winner, 1979). Nowadays, metaphorical competence is seen as a multifaceted phenomenon studied in the interdisciplinary perspective considering not only linguistic, but also cognitive, social, behavioral and cultural aspects. The authors of the present paper share the opinion of Witte that the notion of metaphorical competence "implies more than just being aware of metaphorically constructed meaning and its analysis; it is more than just knowing about metaphor" (Witte, 2014, p. 284).

Metaphorical competence is not limited to linguistic proficiency; it correlates with our perception of the world, because it is typical of humans to think and act metaphorically, cf. (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980, p. 3). It also establishes the framework for clear concept mapping within particular cognitive models and/or categories. It is argued that metaphorical competence originates from cognitive science, as its foundation comes from cognition development, cf. (Wang and Hao, 2013, p. 84). Metaphorical competence is the reflection of the so-called 'conceptual fluency' (Danesi, 1992, p. 493), which implies the advanced command of cognitive modeling and conceptual mapping implemented in the deep understanding of the concept-object relationships and their role in the comprehension of the world. The same view is also supported by Littlemore (2008, p. 201), who refers to 'metaphoric' competence as to "the ability to perceive and create metaphoric relationships between different concepts".

Metaphorical competence is also seen as the instance of behavioral proficiency, which concerns the ability of programming the discourse in metaphorical way and is considered to be the basic feature of a native speaker, cf. (Danesi, 1992, p. 493). It refers to the "learners' ability to draw on the same, or almost the same, range of concepts as native speakers in the contexts of a particular situation" (Harden, 2009, p. 122), while insufficient metaphorical

competence is seen as the disability of the users to switch between cultural codes, which becomes evident when they "use target-language words and phrases as 'carriers' of their native-language concepts" (Kecskes & Papp, 2000, p. 112). The 'metaphor capacity' (Cameron, 1996) possessed by the users in their native language is present in the foreign language (although in different capacity), as being the instance of cognition, it depends upon "a person's habitual way of perceiving, organizing and processing information" (Littlemore, 2001, p. 462). It should be emphasized that metaphorical competence acquired through the media of a language other than native can be based on different cognitive models, which may seriously complicate the process of development of both 'receptive and productive metaphorical competence', cf. (Azuma, 2005).

Skilful application of the elements of figurative language serves as the proof verifying the possession of the metaphorical competence revealed at the surface level of the communicative act. It concerns the command of recognizing metaphors and other figurative language elements in a text, proficiency to understand their organization and competence to transfer information using these elements.

3. Developing metaphorical competence

In the multilingual classroom, learners' language proficiency is correlated to their metaphorical competence, cf. (Aleshtar and Dowlatabadi, 2014, p. 1895). In practice, metaphorical competence influences their linguistic and cognitive abilities and can be considered the tool for juxtaposing world realia against their mental lexicon, stimulating the formation of their cognitive mapping, networking, logical and critical thinking skills.

In terms of the set of skills and abilities, learners can be roughly divided into three groups: (1) those, who find it problematic to understand and use complicated and highly conventional idioms, which contain metaphorical meanings; (2) those, who experience problems in understanding and using metaphorical meanings due to the gaps in their background knowledge (professional, social and cultural aspects); (3) those, who consider it problematic to understand and use even the expressions with images, which are relatively easy to visualise and comprehend, but difficult to reproduce.

This proposition correlates with the theory discussed by Wang and Hao, who argue that the multifaceted nature of metaphorical competence is implemented as the threefold combination of metaphorical awareness, metaphorical comprehension and metaphorical creativity, cf. (Wang and Hao, 2013, p. 84).

It should be noted that in second language learning metaphorical competence, i.e. the ability to identify, decode and appreciate figurative language use, is normally considered to pertain to more advanced learners. CEFR descriptors refer to the ability of learner use both explicit and figurative language as well as idioms only at the higher levels starting with B2. However, since the tendency for coining novel metaphoric terms is ongoing, an LSP learner should develop certain level of metaphorical competence already at earlier stages of second language acquisition. A proficient LSP user should not only be able to understand figurative language use in a professional communicative setting, but also recognize the metaphoric nature of terms and be capable of decoding non-standardized and ad hoc items of professional vocabulary based on metaphoric meaning transfer.

Development of metaphorical competence is particularly important if LSP is taught to be used both intralingually, i.e. to communicate with other specialists within a field using ESP as a form of lingua franca, and interligually in case of technical translation or with the aim to provide localization services.

An LSP user should develop comprehensive metaphorical competence because a considerable part of the professional vocabulary is metaphorical in its nature. Many varieties of LSP are abundant in terms and expressions formed by means of metaphoric meaning extension, which in the process of lexicalization have become dead or stock metaphors, e.g. hedge fund, double frog, beetlehead, Janus antenna, honeycomb brickwork. A more advanced LSP learner alongside with the stock metaphors has to master professionalisms and other elements of professional jargon, e.g. momentum ignition strategies, Robin Hood tax, Lady Macbeth strategy, margins are razor thin. Eventually, a learner should develop solid background knowledge that would allow decoding complex allusions and idioms in a foreign language.

4. Developing metaphorical proficiency in LSP

In science and technology, application of metaphors allows transmitting exact information comprehensively. Metaphorical reasoning is important for communication of ideas and findings to the general public, metaphors are used to describe, evaluate and present information, cf. (Brown, 2003). Contemporary popular-scientific LSP texts are a perfect medium for training metaphorical competence because apart from terms, professionalisms and items of professional slang they are abundant in the instances of figurative language use, i.e. are characterized by high density of figurative language. However, depending on the field, texts would differ with respect to the inventory and frequency of application of figurative resources of the language. Many texts on architecture display a distinctly expressive character, and require a comprehensive level of metaphorical competence to be adequately decoded and appreciated.

The following examples (1 and 2) from the book "Travels into History of Architecture" by R. Harbison present a description of a funerary chapel New Sacristy built by Michelangelo in San Lorenzo, Florence. The book is written in the form of essays, although its genre can be determined as popular scientific. It can be used as a good medium to simultaneously develop specialized knowledge in architecture, terminological proficiency and metaphorical competence, as the author masterfully employs aesthetic resources of the English language, at the same time providing comprehensive background knowledge on the subject.

(1) There's a version of the progress of art, and of culture in general, modelled on the life of creatures, which begins in childish clumsiness and goes through phases of youthful vigour, followed by healthy maturity, leading to decline into effete and decadent stages, and on to extinction and perhaps even a drawn-out aftermath like putrefaction. [A: 159].

The proposition of the text in example (1) is communicated by means of an extended metaphor comparing progress with human life, which arguably, in its turn, is based on conceptualization of any process in terms of human life, from conception to decease. Application of the figurative language to foreground new ideas may considerably facilitate the mastery of complicated vocabulary, e.g. maturity, effete, putrefaction.

(2) The breaks in the segmental hoods of these niches, for instance, line up with the corners of the missing rectangular solid carved out of the centre that leaves behind the impression of its body. Even at its most rigidly straight, the geometry feels bodily, the incisions painful, like lacerations of the flesh. Michelangelo's designs for the fortifications of Florence made around the same time exhibit a similar translation of muscle and skeleton into the vocabulary of abstract Renaissance ornament [A: 161].

In example (2), the author uses a highly figurative language at the same time employing a vast number of specialized terms from different domains: e.g., the geometry feels bodily (mathematics), the incisions painful (medicine), like lacerations of the flesh (medicine), a similar translation of muscle and skeleton into the vocabulary of abstract Renaissance ornament (linguistics). The text may potentially pose problems in comprehension and interpreting even to a native speaker, and it would impose advanced requirements towards an LSP learner, which may make a study process even more fascinating.

Although texts on telecommunications and IT are conventionally more stylistically neutral, they are still not devoid of figurative language use.

(3) Another benefit is the demolition of the simplistic belief that cloud computing services, which are upscale on the food chain, can be equated to electricity, whose bare wires and outlets are way down on the food chain. [B: 38]

Example (3) demonstrates that the term from the field of biology is used to metaphorically describe some properties of cloud computing systems in order to, following the principles of linguistic economy and tendencies for information compression, explain new information in a more concise and at the same time more attractive way. However, if the text in one domain employs in the metaphoric sense any terms from different, sometimes even unrelated domains, decoding can be challenging even for the advanced user of English because a comprehensive level of background knowledge is required to decode all metaphors and allusions.

Texts on economics are characterized by the application of numerous stylistic devices, use of lexis belonging to different registers, extensive application of professional slang and frequent allusion to current and historical events. Texts published by such reputable media as the Financial Times and the Economist pose considerable challenges in

decoding and interpretation. They can be used in the multilingual classroom for educational purposes only with upper-intermediate and advanced learners, who possess advanced receptive metaphorical competence and profound knowledge of different strata of English vocabulary.

Example (4) illustrates a typical mode how the analysts of the Economists discuss complicated economic problems, using rather informal language to communicate meaning metaphorically. Application of such genuine metaphors as to dither, to slim down banks, to guzzle capital can pose challenges in interpretation of the message, at the same time, these metaphors project complex images that may facilitate understanding of the processes discussed.

(3) Having dithered, they [Europe's bankers] now have to make up ground, most obviously by further slimming down their investment banks. These guzzle capital, and have a knack for attracting multi-billion dollar fines to boot. [C]

Teaching Business English, business metaphors and business idioms are an inherent part of the curriculum, but in other LSPs the methodology for developing metaphoric competence has not been sufficiently developed. To facilitate the overall LSP proficiency, there is a need to develop interactive field-specific teaching aids aimed at promoting figurative language use.

Semantic and pragmatic text analysis is one of the most efficient methods for developing metaphorical competence in a multicultural and multilingual LSP classroom. The process is complicated by the fact that students have to deal with a foreign cognitive and linguistic reality and successfully operate within it. The types of tasks aiming at developing background knowledge necessary for facilitating metaphorical competence should be adjusted depending on the exact composition of the class. The teacher/instructor needs sufficient background knowledge, to be polite, respectful, and attentive, and select the tasks based on the shared knowledge of the learners with different social, religious and cultural background.

5. Conclusion

Professional communication in the contemporary interdisciplinary multilingual setting can be considerably impeded if communication participants do not possess a sufficient level of metaphorical competence, which allows them to decode, use and create metaphors. Being a part of the overall linguistic and conceptual competences, metaphorical competence is both an inborn capacity and the product of training. In the mother tongue, this competence is naturally developed within a definite social, cultural and linguistic environment, while in a foreign language it is always the product of conscious targeted effort.

Experienced LSP users should have sufficient terminological competence to understand and use contemporary metaphoric terms and items of professional vocabulary to be capable of decoding the message communicated by means of figurative language. It means that the development of metaphorical competence of the learners should be initiated already at the earlier stages of language acquisition not only to promote the mastering of the figurative professional vocabulary, but also to primarily establish a solid conceptual framework of specialised knowledge in the respective field.

Despite the fact that the language of science and technology is essentially lingua franca devoid of many culture-specific features, learners should be motivated to expand their background knowledge and widen their outlook to be capable to appreciate creative resources of both their mother tongue and the foreign language(s). This issue is especially sensitive if addressed in the multilingual classroom, where students do not share common cultural, social and primary linguistic background. It calls for the necessity to treat behavioural and cultural aspects of metaphorical competence with extreme care and demands the tutors to design curriculum aimed at activation of all core aspects of the metaphorical competence, i.e. linguistic, cognitive, social, behavioral and cultural.

The state-of-the-art level of metaphorical competence possessed by contemporary LSP learners irrespective of the particular study domain has the potential for further advancement. Development of metaphorical competence is an ongoing process, which should be promoted at all levels of language acquisition.


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