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Metaphor in American Sign Language

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Anthropologists and others besides Goossens have begun to consider the “fluid and complex nature of polytropes” (Ohnuki-Tierney 1991, 181) and to look at them from the perspective of interactive transformations on different levels. A diachronic (historical) as well as a synchronic (one point in time) analysis is crucial to the correct interpretation of a tropic expression. In fact, Kittay argues that whether we characterize a term as metaphorical or literal may depend on which analytical stance is taken (1987, 21). Goossens demonstrates that some domains, such as sound, “have a hybrid character, in that they are metonyms in some contexts, metaphors from metonymy in others and sometimes undecided between these two interpretations in actual contexts” (1990, 329). Terence Turner believes that figurative and literal meanings are not fixed but can be shaded and changed into one another depending on the context (1991, 129). Language use generates tropic change.

Although the most recent research indicates fluid diachronic and synchronic interrelationships between tropes, the following sections briefly categorize several tropes relevant to the focus of this book: simile, metonymy, synecdoche, and experiential metaphor. These three tropes other than metaphor demonstrate metaphorical extension against a background of tropic relationships. By contrasting these related tropes, we can more accurately identify metaphor in ASL.


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