9 thoughts on “Another Serious Question

  1. I think we can make a distinction between “literal” and metaphorical speech. That being said, truly literal speech is probably in the minority, and very little worth saying can be expressed thus.

    1. Can you think of an example of “literal”?

      Think about it. If we go back to Saussure & his conception of “signifier” & “signified,” then everything is metaphor because language cannot be connected directly to what it refers.

  2. The core of metaphor is that there is a systematic mapping between the literal reference and the intended reference. You can’t have metaphor without literality. He’s a jackass. doesn’t work if you can’t tell that he isn’t a jackass in the literal sense.

    You are confusing literalness with iconicity. A sign is iconic if it directly represents what it refers to. Most signs are non-iconic. (This is why people were confused about American Sign Language for so long, because much of its vocabulary is (quasi-)iconic. That made people think it wasn’t really a language.)

    1. Just because I made a rather simplistic analogy to attempt to explain what I was thinking doesn’t mean that I’m confusing anything. Sadly, blog comments aren’t a good place for philosophy of language discussions.

      1. How right you are! The trick is to figure out which points of the philosophy of language can be discussed in sound bites, because you can’t avoid them. The fact that we’re limited in space makes it important to keep the most basic points (like iconicity, reference, literality, metaphor, and so forth) straight, even when we looking for non-technical ways to communicate about them. What I didn’t get from your analogy was that you were talking about iconicity. I didn’t mean to be harsh. Sorry.

  3. When metaphors die they become literalisms. Consider “member”, once used as a metaphor but now dead. Probably many of our literal senses of words were once metaphors millennia in the past.

  4. Speculations on the origin of language are useful here. Language develops by means of metaphoric meanings on top of literal, so “back” (the concept, not the word) would have a simple spacial meaning, and then further uses would evolve.

  5. I don’t know how you fancy pants linguists define “literal” and “metaphor”, but I’m apt to say in a sense every statement is symbolic because every word is a symbol – a material object taking the place of something more abstract. In “My cat is black,” “cat”, the “most literal” word, symbolizes my concept of my feline, her body, personality, history, etc which exists as a set of neurons in my brain. Since I can’t lend you my brain cells, I give you words in lieu.

    “In a sense” (which I stress) everything is symbolic and nothing is literal. At the most elementary level, everything is just bosons and fermions and free will but for a human to live with such vocabulary would be impossible thus we create symbols which simplify our world just to communicate with each other.

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