A Cognitive Semantics Approach to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution

22 A Cognitive Semantics Approach to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution both conventional and novel. Typically, they involve reading different text samples and measuring the time needed for their understanding. The leading assumption of these experiments was that if conventional expressions that are classified as metaphorical by Lakoff and Johnson activate metaphorical mappings in their understanding, then the presentation of words related to the target domain in a text sample should facilitate the understanding of the target sentence; hence, it should take less time to process those texts. The experiment results did not confirm this assumption because the times needed to process metaphorical texts were longer. As a result, the authors conclude that the conceptual metaphor theory is faulty. It seems, however, that that the flaw is in the way the experiments were constructed and interpreted. Specifically, the experiments involved only one parameter – time – as the critical and only variable on which all interpretation is based. Although time is easy to measure in an objective way, it gives very unreliable information concerning language processing. Firstly, in real-life communication, time differences recorded in the experiments (up to six seconds) would be negligible even in face-to-face communication, not to mention private reading. Secondly, and more importantly, in real life communication, it is not the time of comprehension that matters but its accuracy, and arriving at what the receiver takes to be a correct understanding of a metaphorical utterance may take more time than in the case of a literal utterance. This is precisely what the experiments demonstrate. The point is that metaphorical mappings facilitate correct understanding, not quick understanding. Consequently, these experiments were blind as to whether subjects actually understood the text samples and the times measured were misinterpreted due to this faulty assumption.4 Another charge directed at the CMT states that metaphorical language does not imply metaphorical thought, even if we recognize the metaphorical meaning of conventional expressions. On the one hand, what is criticized is the circularity of the argument given by Cognitive Semantics: metaphors in language result from metaphors in thought, and the evidence for metaphors in thought comes from metaphorical expressions in language (e.g. Murphy 1996, Keysar et al. 2000). Although one may agree that such criticism is right on target, it is necessary to consider the possibility that, while such circularity of argument does not conform to scientific rigor, it may conform to the reality, that is, it describes how people cogitate and communicate. What 4 The problem of using the time parameter as the main variable applies to experiments that are in favour of CMT as well (e.g. Matlock 2004, Matlock & Richardson 2004).