Bryn Mawr College

Center for Science In Society

To facilitate the broad conversations, involving both scientists and non-scientists, which are essential to continuing explorations of
  • the natural world and humanity's place in it,
  • the nature of education,
  • the generation, synthesis, and evaluation of information,
  • technology and its potentials,
  • the relationships between forms of understanding.

Language: A Conversation

Meeting Notes
21 October 2002

Carol Bernstein (English), Doug Blank (Computer Science), Anne Dalke (English), Paul Grobstein (Biology), Eric Raimy (Linguistics), Kathryn Rowe (English), George Weaver (Philosophy), Rob Wozniak (Psychology)

One Summary View (prepared by Eric Raimy; views by other participants encouraged and can be sent either by email or posted using our working group forum area):

After the traumatic discovery that lunch was not being delivered by food services and the relocation of the group to Wyndham for lunch, discussion began on the Jacobson article "Two aspects of language and two types of aphasic disturbances". Rob began discussion by pointing out that the distinction between metaphor and metonomy has both long historical roots and current usage in psychology. In current times, Rob suggested that metaphor is understood as categorization and metonomy is understood as temporal contingencies (in many cases). This introduction lead to two main types of discussion about metaphor and metonomy.

The first line of discussion was to question whether there is a true distinction between metaphor and metonomy or if they are actually two ends on a spectrum for a single process. Doug was most in favor of the idea that there is only a single dimension of process with metaphor at one end and metonomy on the other. In other words, there is no metaphor/metonomy distinction instead the distinction is more or less metonomousness/metaphoricalness in any process being considered.

Although disagreeing with Doug's position, Kathryn posed a related question as to whether the metaphor/metonomy distinction as used by Jacobson to discuss different types of aphasia was a real distinction and not an artificial classification resulting from the historical prejudices of particular schools of thought. Paul responded to this that there are robust distinctions in different types of aphasias so that the metaphor/metonomy distinction propsed by Jacobson is not incorrect per se but that whether different types of aphasias are actually related to only two distinct mental processes is still an open question. Eric added that current work on aphasia recognizes a more complex model than just metaphor metonomy dichotomy.

A certain amount of time was spent discussing the relevance of open vs. closed classes of words. As discussed in last year's LWG, open classes of words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs) allow new instances of words to be easily coined. Closed classes of words (determiners, articles, prepositions, auxiliary verbs) do not allow new words to be added. This distinction is found in different types of aphasia. Broca's aphasia which has been traditionally thought of as a purely motor-control problem based affliction shows that function words are dropped in the speech of Broca's aphasics. Also to further question the solely motor-control aspect of Broca's aphasia is that these subjects also have aspects of sentence comprehension affected. Primarily, the function words (such as past tense marking) are not understood in sentences. These pieces of information suggest that there is actual cognitive damage in Broca's aphasis and that it is not simply damage to motor control aspects of langauge.

There was a final discussion about whether syntax was a metaphorical or metonymic process. Rob interpreted Jacobson to believe that syntax was metaphorical. Eric suggested that it was the other way around in that syntax is metonymic because it determines what sequences of words can be put together. This lead to the realization that we might want to read Jacobson's work in a much closer way to make sure which way he thinks this works.

The meeting ended with the agreement that we would continue the discussion of the metaphor/metonomy dichotomy/spectrum. We also agreed that we would return to Beckett (we did not get to this during this meeting) to finish discussion there and that Doug would provide a reading that investigates metaphor/metonomy further for the next LWG meeting.