Perception Metaphor Workshop

12 – 13 October 2016


The humanities and social sciences are in the throes of “embodiment” and this has put perception to the forefront of inquiry. In this workshop we explore the myriad ways perceptual language serves as the basis of, or target for, metaphorical extension. We bring together scholars from linguistics, anthropology, and psychology to tackle perception and metaphor from historical, typological, corpus, experimental, and developmental perspectives. In doing so, we hope to stimulate debate and exchange on a number of key issues.

In particular, we seek to address fundamental questions such as how does metaphor and metonymy work in perceptual domains. Sensory domains have been characterized as physical and relatively concrete, making for potential source domains in metaphorical mapping. Vision is often singled out amongst perceptual categories as the source of metaphorical mappings (e.g., Sweetser 1990), and a recent cross-linguistic study (San Roque et al. 2015) showed that in everyday conversation reference to vision outnumbers reference to other sensory modalities. But what happens in the perceptual domains beyond vision? A short foray to audition shows rather than sound being the source of metaphors, it is often the target (e.g., space → pitch: high note, low note; touch → loudness: soft sigh). So, what types of metaphor and metonymy are there into and out of perceptual domains? And how do the lesser-considered senses of smell and taste behave?

Are there really “universal” perceptual metaphors? Do perception verbs behave in similar ways cross-linguistically? What about adjectives or nouns? Patterns of polysemy suggest different trajectories for different word classes, with verbs moving from higher to lower senses, but adjectives perhaps doing the opposite. What can data from understudied languages tell us about these tendencies?

There are many examples cross-linguistically of perceptual terms having multiple meanings (e.g., ‘I see the dog’ vs. ‘I see what you mean’, or ‘I smell the smoke’ vs. ‘I smell a rat’), especially where the extended senses apply to concepts outside of the perceptual domain. In these cases, how do we establish which meaning is primary? To what extent can we use historical linguistics to understand semantic change within lexicon from the perceptual domain?


Wendy Anderson (University of Glasgow)
“Perception metaphor: a bird’s-eye view”

Rosario Caballero (University of Castilla-La Mancha)
“I dreamt the dish and then it tasted as I had dreamt it”: Sensory experiences, meaning and language

Iraide Ibarretxe-Antuñano (Universidad de Zaragoza)
“The biocultural grounding of perception metaphors”

Zoltán Kövecses (Eötvös Loránd University)
“Perception and metaphor”

Bambi B. Schieffelin (New York University)
“Perception verbs in context: Perspectives from Bosavi (Kaluli) child/caregiver interactions”

Martine Vanhove (Langage, Langues et Cultures d’Afrique Noire)
“Perception-based metaphors in some Afroasiatic languages”

Bodo Winter (University of Birmingham)
“Re-analyzing the synesthetic metaphor hierarchy using modality norms”

Ulrike Zeshan (University of Central Lancashire)
“Perceptual metaphors in sign languages”


Asifa Majid, Carolyn O’Meara, Lila San Roque, Laura Speed

Centre for Language Studies | Radboud University


  • San Roque, L., Kendrick, K. H., Norcliffe, E., Brown, P., Defina, R., Dingemanse, M., Dirksmeyer, T., Enfield, N. J., Floyd, S., Hammond, J., Rossi, G., Tufvesson, S., Van Putten, S., & Majid, A. (2015). Vision verbs dominate in conversation across cultures, but the ranking of non-visual verbs varies. Cognitive Linguistics 26: 31-60. (read here)
  • Sweetser, Eve. (1990). From etymology to pragmatics: Metaphorical and cultural aspects of semantic structure. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.