“Metaphoric terms: Elusive magic of meaning transformation”

May 22, 2015 11:04 am

The article by Larisa Iljinska, Marina Platonova and Tatjana Smirnova (included in the book Languages for Special Purposes in a Multilingual, Transcultural World) explores metaphoric terms in technical contexts. It provides help for updating mono- and multilingual terminology databases and describes the development of terminology in technical fields. Creating new terms, which is rarely a controlled action, is mostly based on existing linguistic material by derivation, compounding and semantic change. The text deals with metaphoric meaning extension as it is the most frequently used mechanism of semantic change in term building in technical language.

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Iljinska et al. discuss cognitive aspects of metaphors. The article sees metaphors “[…] as an essential conceptual tool, which consists in a structural mapping from a source conceptual domain onto a target conceptual domain.” The challenges for translators arise from multiple meanings of a term, and culture specific associations. The meaning potential of metaphors is higher than for other concepts. Allwood (2003:43) defines meaning potential as “[…] all the information that the word has been used to convey either by a single individual, or on the social level, by the language community […]”. Multiple meanings imply that it is context-dependent what the term means. The same term can be metaphoric or non-metaphoric. Additionally, one term can have more than one metaphoric meaning. Metaphors with multiple meanings in one field cause more confusion than cross-disciplinary polysemy. These polysemic, highly complex and symbolic metaphors make translation outside the context even more difficult, especially in terminology.

The text explains terms based on metaphoric meaning extension. The classification of metaphoric terms in the article relates to the field of reference, and the mechanism of meaning transfer. Fauna, flora, human body, and household items are fields of references frequently used in technical language. Flora refers mostly to the shape of the object. Metaphoric terms referring to the human body expand meaning through the similarity of function and/or form. This strategy can be frequently observed. Using animal imagery as a reference point is also a common strategy. However, the symbolic meaning can differ as the cultural aspect of understanding metaphors is important. The symbolic aspects are not salient in technical language as animal imagery in this case usually indicates a similar form and/or function like the cat’s eye refers to the ability of cats to see in the dark.

Metaphors compare complex, technical concepts to relatable images, which can be challenging for translation. The article points out important issues for the development of new terms and the translation of such. When translating metaphoric terms, it is crucial to consider the problems that might occur, in particular multiple meanings of concepts. One needs to pay attention to the different images for the same concept in different cultures, languages and technical fields. Identifying a technical term and its context or specific field is important as well. However, knowledge of the context is not always given if the translator works in more than one specific field.
Written by Anne Becker, Study Visitor at TermCoord

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