Metonymy - Fachbereich Sprachwissenschaft

Metonymy - Fachbereich Sprachwissenschaft
Fachbereich Sprachwissenschaft
Universität Konstanz
Arbeitspapier (to appear)
Peter Koch
Metonymy: unity in diversity
In: Regine Eckardt & Klaus von Heusinger (eds.) Meaning Change –
Meaning Variation. Workshop held at Konstanz, Vol. II.
Peter Koch
Metonymy: unity in diversity*
Je donne entre les especes de Tropes, la premiere
place à la Metonymie, parce que c’est le Trope le
plus étendu, & qui comprend soûs luy plusierus
autres especes (Bernard Lamy, De l’Art de
Parler, Paris 1676).**
When dealing with linguistic effects that are usually labelled as ‘metonymy’, we may
sometimes doubt that this term really denotes a unitary range of phenomena. Rather,
heterogeneity seems to be so typical of ‘metonymy’ that we have to consider repeatedly
whether we should exclude certain phenomena from the realm of ‘metonymy’.
However, I am convinced that most, though not all, of the multifarious phenomena subsumed under the label ‘metonymy’ form a unity and that many traditional and modern
accounts of this unity converge in one point. In the following, I first will try to sketch
this unitary understanding of ‘metonymy’ (section 0) and then point out that the indisputable heterogeneity of the corresponding range of phenomena is not chaotic, but can
be systematized along different dimensions (sections 1-3). Measuring this pluridimensionality (cf. also Radden/Kövecses 1999, 21-44) will enable us to determine more
accurately the true range of metonymy (section 4).
Metonymy as a figure/ground effect within frames
0.1. Contiguity, frame, and figure/ground effect
The earliest definition of ‘metonymy’ (Rhetorica ad Herennium 4, 32, 43) already
makes use of the notion of ‘near and close’. The relation of closeness clearly
corresponds to what would later be termed ‘contiguity’ by associationist philosophers
and psychologists (a relation identified long before by Aristotle in his De memoria et
reminiscentia 451b: 18-22). The rhetorical and the associationist currents of thinking
were integrated for the first time by Roudet, who defined ‘metonymy’ as a type of
semantic change „résultant d’une association par contiguïté entre les idées“ (1921, 690).
The importance of semantic contiguity as underlying metonymy was confirmed by
Jakobson (1956) on the synchronic level and by Ullmann (1962, 218-220) on the
diachronic level.1
Whereas contiguity is presented from a more or less structuralist perspective as a linguistic relation between signifiés of words (Jakobson, Ullmann; also Dubois et al. 1970,
106 ff.), a cognitive approach should conceive of it rather as a conceptual/perceptual
relation.2 In my view, contiguity is the relation existing between elements of a
I express my gratitude to Keith Myrick for the stylistic revision of this paper.
** Special thanks to Brigitte Schlieben-Lange (Tübingen) for this quotation.
1 For a more detailed, critical outline, see Koch 1999a, 144-145; also, cf. Blank 1997, 10-20, 40-43, 230-235;
1999a, 170-172.
Even if the notion of ‘contiguity’ sometimes appears in the cognitive literature (cf., e.g., Taylor 1995, 122; Croft
1993, 347; Ungerer/Schmid 1996, 115 f.; Radden/Kövecses 1999, 19), it is generally not systematically
exploited. – As for the necessary distinction between linguistic signifiés of words and concepts, cf. Koch 1996a,
prototypical conceptual/perceptual frame or between the frame as a whole and each of
its elements (cf. Koch 1999a, 145-149). I use the term ‘frame’ here in a very general
sense, comprising also ‘scene’, ‘scenario’, ‘script’ etc. 3 Of course, elements of a frame
can, in turn, constitute (sub-)frames.
In Cognitive Semantics, the notion of frame has turned out to be particularly fertile with
respect to processes of ‘perspectivization’ and ‘windowing of attention’ (cf. Fillmore
1977; Dirven et al. 1982; Talmy 1996; Ungerer/Schmid 1996, 205-249). One can speak
of ‘processes of perspectivization within frames’ from two totally different semiotic
points of view. On the one hand, we can raise the onomasiological question of how
different perspectives of a frame are expressed linguistically. For the COMMERICAL
EVENT frame, e.g., we have English verbalizations such as the following:
(1) a.Engl. Ann bought an old book from Daniel for 90 Cents.
b. Engl. Daniel sold an old book to Ann for 90 Cents.
c. Engl. Ann paid 90 Cents to Daniel for an old book.
d. Engl. The old book cost Ann 90 Cents.
On the other hand, we can raise the semasiological problem if different senses of a given linguistic expression correspond to different perspectives within the same frame. It is
in this sense that perspectivization has been related to metonymy (cf. Taylor 1995, 90,
107 f., 125 f.).4 Since frames are to be considered conceptual/perceptual gestalts,5 we
can easily explicate this semasiological understanding of ‘perspectivization’ in terms of
gestalt theory and, more specifically, in terms of ‘figure/ground’ effects. In the visual
realm, this can be illustrated by the traditional example of Figure 1, where we perceive
either four black squares on a white ground or, alternatively, a white cross on a black
Figure 1
223 f., 226-231; 1996b (unfortunately, this distinction is widely unknown or is questioned by the mainstream of
Cognitive Semantics: cf., e.g., Haiman 1980; Taylor 1999, 18-25; cf. also the critical outline in Blank 2000,
section 3).
Cf. Minsky 1975; Fillmore 1975; 1985; Schank/Abelson 1977; Tannen 1979; Barsalou 1992. – In this context, I
avoid the term ‘domain’, because it is often used to denote contiguity-based frames as well as taxonomic hierarchies in an undifferentiated manner (cf. Koch 1999a, 152 f.; cf. also below, Figure 3a/b). I also avoid the ambiguous term ‘idealized cognitive model’ (ICM), proposed by Lakoff (1987) and taken up by Panther/Radden (1999,
9) and Radden/Kövecses (1999); cf. the critical remarks in Koch 1996a, 234 n. 28, concerning its use for
In a more informal way, the relevance of frames to metonymy has been evoked by Fritz (1998, 45 f.).
For the basic notions of gestalt theory, cf., e.g., Wertheimer 1922/23; Köhler 1947; Metzger 1986.
Similarly, with respect to a prototypical frame PURSUING AND TRYING TO CATCH AN
ANIMAL THAT RUNS AWAY, the French verb chasser can „highlight“ either the aspect of
TRYING TO CATCH (2a) or, alternatively, the aspect of MAKING RUN AWAY (2b) (cf. Meillet
1905/6, 259; Jongen 1985, 131 f.; Koch 1991, 296):
(2) a.Fr. Nous irons chasser du gibier.
‘We will go to hunt game.’
b. Fr. Nous avons chassé les chiens de notre cuisine.
‘We chased the dogs from our kitchen.’
Thus, the metonymic relation between these two senses of Fr. chasser can be described
in terms of a figure/ground effect along the contiguity relations within 6 a given
conceptual frame (cf. Koch 1993, 269 ff.; 1995a, 40 f.; 1996a, 236; 1999a, 151-153,
155-157; Blank 1997, 235-243). This figure/ground effect is summarized in the
following table: 7
Fr. chasser
sense A
(2a) Nous irons chasser du
sense B
(2b) Nous avons chassé les
> ground
chiens de notre cuisine.
> figure
Table 1
0.2. A basic definition of metonymy
Though convinced of the unity of metonymy, one still has to cope with the apparent
heterogeneity of so-called ‘metonymies’ or ‘metonymic effects’. Nevertheless, it seems
useful to systematize different dimensions of this heterogeneity and then to determine
for each dimension separately the applicability of the unitary understanding of
metonymy sketched in 0.1. In order to detect several of these dimensions (some of
which will be well known, whereas others may be new to the reader), we can begin with
the following provisional definition:
(3) Metonymy is
(i) a linguistic effect upon the content of a given form,
(ii) based on a figure/ground effect with respect to cognitive frames and
Cognitive semanticists have repeatedly insisted on the fact that metonymies, as opposed to metaphors (s. below
n. 13), function within one experiential frame, domain (matrix), etc.: cf. Lakoff/Johnson 1980, 39 f.; Lakoff 1987,
288; Croft 1993, 345-348.
Note that the notions ‘figure’ and ‘ground’ have been exploited in Cognitive Linguistics in several, rather
different ways. The present application to frames, contiguities, and metonymies should not be confused with
other applications, like those delineated, for instance, in Ungerer/Schmid 1996, 156-200.
contiguity relations,
(iii) and generated by pragmatic processes.
This definition truly reflects the interest for metonymy shown by different disciplines as
linguistic semantics ((i); s. below section 1), cognitive sciences ((ii); s. below section 2),
rhetoric, literary studies, and pragmatics ((iii); s. below section 3).
Metonymy as a linguistic effect
If metonymy is considered to be „a linguistic effect upon the content of a given form”
((3)(i) above), this implies a variable element (the content) and an invariable element
(the form). Of course, the invariability of the form can be only of a relative nature.
Thus, in example (4), illustrating a metonymic change of content from (a) to (b), the
form actually undergoes a dramatic sound change, but due to diachronic continuity, it
has to be regarded as an invariant. Consequently, the relevant linguistic effect concerns
the content level exclusively.
(4) a.
CLat. tremere ‘to tremble’
OFr. criembre, ModFr. craindre [kRg:dR∂] ‘to fear’
Linguistic effects can be further differentiated according to essentials of human
language. In the present context, the following aspects have to be considered:
(5) Human language
(i) is characterized by the dialectics between conventional rules and individual
speech events: innovations always emerge in individual speech events,
real language change is a matter of conventionalization;8
(ii) has a paradigmatic and a syntagmatic dimension;
(iii) has several subsystems (phonology, grammar, lexicon, etc.).
From these points, we can determine three essential problems concerning metonymy as
a linguistic effect (1.1.-1.3.). Surely, one could question in any case the statement that
metonymy i s a linguistic effect. This will be discussed further in 4.1.
1.1. Innovation vs. conventionality
If, according to (5)(i), human language is characterized by the dialectics between individual speech events and conventional rules, we have to distinguish between two types
of effects that are both frequently subsumed under ‘metonymy’.
To begin with, there are metonymic ad hoc effects that occur spontaneously in discourse. I had the opportunity to personally observe an effect of this kind: As my
professional work threatened to cause me to neglect our family life, my wife and I
agreed to set aside one day per week for the family (Saturday or Sunday, as a rule). We
called it jour fixe (6a). On that day, together with our little boy, we would take a trip, go
for a walk, or go sightseeing. Time went by, and our son was getting to the age when
boys begin to be bored by promenades or sightseeing with their parents. One day when
we announced once again our jour fixe, he protested: „Och nein, bitte keinen jour fixe !“
[‘Oh no, no jour fixe, please !’]. He clearly had effected a totally individual metonymic
innovation (6b) with respect to our (personal) adults’ sense of jour fixe:
For the distinction between (ad hoc) ‘innovation’ and ‘change’ (by adoption), cf. Coseriu 1958, 44-46.
(6) a.
jour fixe ‘day reserved for the family’
jour fixe ‘day of boring promenades and sightseeing’
Ad hoc metonymies like this are opposed to metonymic effects that occur between different senses of certain polysemous lexemes:
(7) a.
Engl. child ‘offspring, descendant’
Engl. child ‘very young person’
While in cases like (6) the metonymic sense (b) is an innovation generated ad hoc in
discourse, in cases like (7) the metonymic sense (b) has already been lexicalized, i.e.
conventionalized (or habitualized), ready for being activated in discourse at any time.
Ad hoc metonymy, as a „trope“, has always been a topic of rhetoric. Metonymic change
(and polysemy), on the other hand, is investigated by historical semantics, even in those
cases where the original non-metonymic sense has eventually disappeared and remains
a purely „archeological“ background (cf. (4), where the sense ‘tremble’ is no more
present in French).
Despite all these differences, the underlying cognitive relation and the corresponding
figure/ground effect is in both cases fundamentally the same: in (6) it is a contiguity
FAMILY DAY – BORING PROMENADE DAY based on the prototypical experiential frame
WEEKEND DAY of a young boy; in (7) it is a contiguity based on the fact that in certain
experiential frames we prototypically conceive of a VERY YOUNG PERSON in terms of
DESCENDANCE (and also, to some degree, vice versa).
From a diachronic point of view, the two phenomena are intimately related. Ad hoc
metonymies – if they are „successful“, which is not necessarily the case (cf. (6)) –
ultimately c a n induce metonymic changes that lead to metonymic polysemies like
(7). Metonymic polysemies, in turn, are generally the result of conventionalized ad hoc
metonymies in discourse.9 (This distinction does not apply, however, to metonymies of
type C in 2.3.)
Terminologically speaking, we should insist on the fundamental cognitive unity of all
metonymic effects, without neglecting the crucial difference between innovative and
conventionalized effects. Accordingly, we would have to distinguish ‘(ad hoc) metonymy’, involving an ad hoc figure/ground effect, from ‘metonymic change’ and
‘metonymic polysemy’, involving a conventionalized figure/ground effect.10 In the following, for the sake of terminological convenience, I will nevertheless subsume, ‘(ad
hoc) metonymy’, ‘metonymic change’, and ‘metonymic polysemy’ under the general
label of ‘metonymy’ tout court.
For the processes of lexicalization of ad hoc lexical innovations, including, of course, metonymy, cf. Koch 1994,
203-209; 1999a, 139 f.; Blank 1997, 116-130. As for the intimate link between semantic change and polysemy cf.
Bréal 1921, 143 f.; Koch 1991, 293; 1994, 203-209; Wilkins 1996, 267-270; Blank 1997, 114-130, and this
10 Speaking of „conventionalized figure/ground effects“ makes sense, because metonymic polysemy is a kind of
motivation. Once an existing metonymic figure/ground effect fades away, we get pure homonymy: e.g. Germ.
Flegel ‘flail’, hence ‘peasant’ (first metonymic step), hence ‘boor, lout’ (second metonymic step; cf. below ex.
(33)); due to the disapperance of the intermediate sense, this is today perceived to be homonymy.
1.2. Syntagmatic explicitness
According to (5)(ii), human language has a paradigmatic and a syntagmatic dimension.
The former concerns the essence of metonymy itself, since the metonymic use of a linguistic element totally changes its position within the paradigm of which it is a part
(normally cutting across lexical fields, linguistic subsystems in the sense of 1.3., etc.).
In contrast to this, the syntagmatic dimension allows interesting modulations of the
metonymic effect – an insight that, to my knowledge, most scholars have not yet
accounted for.
At this point, we discover an interesting analogy with metaphor, the functioning of
which also varies largely depending on the syntagmatic environment. We can
distinguish at least the following „syntagmatic“ types of metaphors:11
(8) Explicit metaphor in praesentia:
Fr. Partir, c’est mourir un peu.
‘To depart is to die a little.’
(9) Semi-explicit metaphor in absentia:
Engl. The rose melted.
‘ The rose lost it petals.’
(Levin 1977, 24)
(10) Implicit metaphor in absentia:
Engl. I could not get rid of this gorilla.
(metaphorical sense ‘ruffian’ only in case gorilla refers to a man, and not to an
In the same way, we can distinguish at least three „syntagmatic“ types of metonymy:
(11) Explicit metonymy in praesentia:12
Engl. Knowledge is power.
(12) Semi-explicit metonymy in absentia:
Engl. The buses are on strike.
‘ The bus drivers are on strike.’
11 Cf. especially Pirazzini 1997, 34-40; cf. also Brooke-Rose 1958, 26-67, 149-152; Searle 1979, 118; Prandi 1992,
127-134; Koch 1994, 210 f. A more fine-grained classification of metaphors is possible, for example with respect
to the Aristotelian analogical equation A : B = C : D, whose elements can be realized syntagmatically in varying
number (in (8), we have only A and C).
12 This very radical type of metonymy seems to be rather rare, and, due to its predicative form, it is easily confused
with the corresponding type of metaphor. However, (11) does not mean that KNOWLEDGE is CONCEIVED OF AS
POWER, but that KNOWLEDGE PROVIDES POWER, which is a contiguity relation within a frame, say, SOCIETY
(knowledge enables people to occupy central positions in a society, to influence political decisions, etc.). Other
metonymies in praesentia are utterances like Palestine is Arafat (frame PALESTINE: Arafat is the most salient
person with respect to this frame) or Time is money (Lakoff/Johnson (1980, 7) present TIME IS MONEY as a
conceptual metaphor (citing examples like You’re wasting my time, This gadget will save you hours). I think that
this interpretation is quite possible (TIME IS CONCEIVED OF AS MONEY), but clearly different from the frame-based
figure/ground effect underlying the sense of the everyday dictum Time is money that explicitly presents TIME and
MONEY as belonging to the same frame BUSINESS (working hours have to be paid; wasting time costs money;
money can buy manpower in order to save time; etc.): TIME „COSTS “ MONEY.
(13) Implicit metonymy in absentia:
Engl. Where can I wash my hands ?
‘Where can I urinate/defecate ?’
(for example in a restaurant)
(cf. Radden/Kövecses 1999, 53)
In (8) and (11), the two relata of the underlying cognitive relation (similarity for metaphor, contiguity for metonymy) are both realized syntagmatically ((8) partir — mourir,
(11) knowledge — power). In (9) and (12), only the metaphorical/metonymic element
(melt/buses) is present, but it stands in a syntagmatic relation to another element
(rose/on strike) that reveals its metaphorical/metonymic character. In (10) and (13), the
possible metaphorical/metonymic character of gorilla/to wash my hands can be deduced
only from the situation or from a larger context. In another context it could be understood „literally“.
Beyond any doubt, the three examples of metonymy cited display equally well
figure/ground effects within experiential frames: (11) frame SOCIETY (cf. also n. 12);
(12) frame BUS; (13) frame TOILET, and this is exactly what distinguishes them from the
metaphors of the corresponding types (8), (9), and (10), that all involve mapping across
frames and domains. 13 The only difference between the types (11), (12), and (13)
concerns the way in which the figure/ground effect is expressed syntagmatically: (11)
by a radical pseudo-equation (is) of the two relata of the contiguity relation
(KNOWLEDGE – POWER ); (12) by explicitly adding elements of another frame (STRIKE) the
highlighted concept ( BUS DRIVER ) also belongs to; (13) by committing to a contextually
and only implicitly given frame ( RESTAURANT ) the task to highlight the intended concept
1.3. Linguistic subsystems concerned
According to (5)(iii), human language has several subsystems that can be involved in
metonymies. Since metonymy is an effect acting on whole linguistic signs that
encompass an expression face (called here ‘form’) and a content face, the phonological
subsystem is never of immediate concern to metonymies.14
The traditional examples of metonymy are lexical, but this does not mean that metonymic effects are alien to grammar or even to pragmatics or the discourse level.
Rather, we have to distinguish:
purely lexical metonymies,
lexical metonymies with grammatical implications,
metonymies as transitions between lexicon and grammar,
metonymies within grammar,
pragmatic metonymies,
13 As for metaphor, cf., e.g., Bühler 1965, 342-350; Lakoff/Johnson 1980; Liebert 1992, 28-82; Croft 1993, 345-
348; Koch 1994, esp. 213.
14 Effects of phonetic erosion and shrinking, as they occur in processes of grammaticalization (s. 1.3.3., below), are
only a by-product of semantic processes, including metonymy (cf. Detges/Waltereit 1999).
1.3.6. metonymies as transitions between pragmatics and the lexicon,
1.3.7. metonymies at the level of discourse semantics.
1.3.1. The purely lexical metonymies are exemplified by (2), (4), (6), (7), (11), and (13)
and need no further comment.
1.3.2. The verb is a part of speech geared to the linguistic representation of frames that
correspond to our conception/perception of states of affairs; on the formal level, this is
reflected in valency, a phenomenon that intrinsically characterizes the verb and
interweaves it with the grammatical structure of the sentence (cf. Seyfert 1976, 122,
356; Fillmore 1977; Koch 1981, 80 f.; Heringer 1984; Waltereit 1998, 53 f.). Recent
studies in historical semantics have shown that the realm of the verb is rich in metonymic processes that also affect its morphosyntactic environment, i.e. its valency.
Recessive/causative alternations, also called inchoative/causative alternations, are a
current example (cf., e.g., Tesnière 1959, 271; Koch 1991, 294 f.; Haspelmath 1993, 92,
101, 104; Waltereit 1998, 84-91):
(14) a. Germ. Die Kritiker verstummen.
‘The critics grow silent.’
b. Germ. Die Leistung der Mannschaft verstummt ihre Kritiker.
‘The team’s performance silences its critics.’
(ad hoc metonymy by a sports reporter reprimanded
in a squib in Der Tagesspiegel, June 9, 1995, 23)
(15) a. Engl. Suddenly, the door closed.
b. Engl. Suddenly, John closed the door.
These are clear cases of metonymy, because they display a figure/ground effect between
part of an EVENT frame (a) and the whole EVENT frame, including an INSTIGATOR (b).15
Due to the verb-inherent phenomenon of valency, this kind of metonymy is reflected in
a reorganization of grammatical valency. The only participant, expressed as a subject in
(a), moves to the direct object position in (b), where the subject expresses the INSTIGATOR. From the diachronic point of view, the metonymy goes from PART to WHOLE
in (14) and from WHOLE to PART in (15): whereas the causative sense of (14b) does not
yet belong to Standard German usage, the causative sense of (15b) is primary (close <
OFr. clore ‘to make close’).
Other kinds of lexical metonymies with grammatical implications are auto-conversions
(s. below 2.2.) and locative alternations or so-called swarm alternations (cf., e.g., Fillmore 1968, 391; Anderson 1971; Koch/Rosengren 1996; Waltereit 1998, 67-74).
1.3.3. On the semantic level, grammaticalization processes have been explained in terms
of ‘semantic bleaching’ or ‘generalization’ (e.g., Lehmann 1995, 126-129;
Hopper/Traugott 1993, 93; Bybee et al. 1994, 289-293) and of metaphor (e.g., Heine et
al. 1991, 45 ff.; Stolz 1994; Keller 1995, 230-239). Much more rarely, metonymy has
15 As for part/whole metonymies s. below 2.2.
been taken into account (Heine et al. 1991, 61-64; Traugott/König 1991, 210-213 16). As
Detges could demonstrate on the basis of different grammaticalization processes
(leading to futures, perfects, adverbs, and negations), metonymy is one, or perhaps
t h e central, process in grammaticalization (cf. Detges 1998; 1999; in press;
Detges/Waltereit 1999). In frames of human action, for instance, there is a strong
contiguity between INTENTION and FUTURE. By a figure/ground effect between these two
elements of the respective frames, a modal lexical item, as MEngl. wilen in (16a), can
shift to an expression form for the future and become totally grammaticalized, as in
(16b) (where Peter surely did not w a n t to deny Jesus!).
(16) a. MEngl. [...] Deeth [...] ne wol nat han my lyf.
‘Death does not want to have my life.’
b. MEngl. you wolt forsake me zrien. (Jesus to Peter)
‘Thou shalt deny me thrice/You shall deny me thrice.’
(cit. Mossé 1969, 136 and 134)
Metonymic processes of this and other kinds, then, accompany diachronic transitions
from lexicon to grammar.
1.3.4. Fascinated by grammaticalization, recent linguistic research has in general
neglected semantic change within grammar (or has even incorporated it into a particular
conception of ‘grammaticalization’). Upon closer inspection, it seems that
intragrammatical semantic change is subject largely to the same regularities as lexical
semantic change. Just as there are lexical metonymies (s. above 1.3.1.), there are also
intragrammatical metonymies. Take, for instance, the relationship between the temporal
function of the French imparfait (17a) and its modal, counterfactual function (17b):
(17) a. Fr. Jean avait assez d’argent.
‘Michael had enough money.’
b. Fr. Si Michel avait assez d’argent, il achèterait une voiture.
‘If Michael had enough money, he would buy a car.’
From a form expressing PAST like (17a) and implying present-time non-factuality, a figure/ground effect may lead to a form expressing present-time COUNTERFACTUALITY
within the same frame. Since the French imparfait is already totally grammaticalized as
a tense, its modal function in (17b) has to be viewed as the result of an intragrammatical
metonymy (with parallels in several other languages: cf. Taylor 1995, 149-152).
Other examples of the (rather common) phenomenon of grammatical metonymy are the
emergence of epistemic futures (cf. Bybee et al. 1991, 22-32, without a metonymic
interpretation, however) and reanalyses in already grammaticalized reflexive constructions (cf. Detges/Waltereit 1999).
1.3.5. For about three decades, indirect speech acts have been a controversial issue (cf.,
e.g., Searle 1975; Levinson 1983; Sperber/Wilson 1986, 243 ff.). Be this as it may, it is
striking that (pragmatic) frames seem to play an important role in this realm. According
16 ‘Pragmatic strengthening’ and ‘conventionalization of conversational implicatures’, as described especially by
Traugott and König, are, in fact, metonymies: cf. Taylor 1995, 152; Koch 1999, 155 f. (s. also below 3.1.).
to Searle, one element of a directive speech act ‘frame’ or ‘scenario’ (as we could
express it in cognitive terms) is the preparatory condition that the hearer H is able to
perform the action A requested by the speaker S. Consequently, by asking for the
validity of this preparatory condition, S can perform, through a figure/ground effect, the
intended directive speech act:
Engl. Can you help me ?
‘Help me !’
So, these and similar cases, concerning various speech act types and their respective
conditions, can be considered as ‘speech act metonymies’ (cf. Taylor 1995, 157; Thornburg/Panther 1997; Panther/Thornburg 1999; Gibbs 1999, 72 f.; cf. also the considerations in Schifko 1979, 259 ff.).
1.3.6. A totally different kind of ‘speech act metonymies’ underlies the emergence of
performative verbs. This can be exemplified by the verb Lat. mandare:
(19) a. Lat. Tibi mando ut hunc nuntium statim Marco amico deferas.
‘I entrust you to deliver this news at once to my friend Marcus.’
b. Lat. mandare ‘to order’
In the propositional content of a speech act of order, Latin speakers became
accustomend to frequently choosing the non-performative verb mandare ‘entrust’. Due
to a figure/ground effect within the frame of the speech act of order, mandare
eventually came to express the concept ORDER itself (cf. Anscombre et al. 1987; Koch
1991, 295; 1993, 268-271; Blank 1997, 256-258). In this way, metonymic processes
accompany so-called ‘delocutive’ diachronic transitions from pragmatics to the lexicon.
1.3.7. As for the level of discourse semantics, s. below 2.3., type C.
Metonymy as based on a cognitive relation
We have considered metonymy to be „based on a figure/ground effect with respect to
cognitive frames and contiguity relations” ((3)(ii)). This implies a further series of differentiations:
(20) The cognitive relation of contiguity
(i) can be grasped on different levels of abstraction;
(ii) has to be defined with respect to entities involved in the process of semiosis
(especially concept and referent);
(iii) has to be allocated with respect to frames and thereby distinguished from other
cognitive relations.
From these points, we can determine three essential problems concerning metonymy as
based on a cognitive relation (2.1.-2.3.).
2.1. Level of abstraction
Literally speaking, ‘contiguity’ means ‘spatial closeness’. In this strict sense,
‘contiguity’ would fit only cases of metonymy like (21):
(21) a. OFr. riv(i)ere ‘bank, shore’
b. ModFr. rivière ‘river’ ( comp. Engl. river)
In fact, the terms ‘metonymy’ and/or ‘contiguity’ have been used in rhetorical, psychological, and linguistic tradition (cf. 0.1.) in a much broader sense. Thus, it seems
sound to strip the term ‘contiguity’ of its literal (spatial) limitation and to apply it to all
kinds of experiential links within and with respect to frames (cf. Koch 1999a, 145 f.).
Nevertheless, traditional and even modern treatments of metonymy continue to display
(partly varying) inventories of „real“, „logical“, etc. relations involved in metonymies
(cf., e.g., Fontanier 1977, 79-86; Lausberg 1973, § 568; Bredin 1984, 48; Bonhomme
1987, 60-70; Blank 1997, 230-235; 1999a, 176-178; Waltereit 1998, 19-22;
Radden/Kövecses 1999, 29-44; Nerlich/Clarke/Todd 1999, 363 f.; Seto 1999, 98-113):
(cf. (6)); PRECEDING – ENSUING (cf. (13) and (16)); CAUSE – EFFECT (cf. (4) and
(11)); CAUSE – RESULT (cf. (2)); CONDITION – CONDITIONED (cf. (18)); AGENT – ACT; ACT –
SYMBOLIZED (19); PART – WHOLE (cf. (14) and (15)); and many others.
There are three problems with these kinds of typologies. First, they are never exhaustive
(to which types of relation are we to assign, for instance, the clearly metonymic cases
(7) and (17) ?). Second, the types of underlying relations are not really discrete (does
(12), for instance, correspond to AGENT – INSTRUMENT/CONTROLLER – CONTROLLED or
rather to AGENT – OBJECT or even to POSSESSOR – POSSESSED ?). Third, the relations can
be defined at different levels of abstraction. Radden/Kövecses (1999, 38 f.), e.g., subsume under the type EFFECT – CAUSE relations as STATE/EVENT – THING/PERSON/STATE
Blank (1997, 249-253; 1999a, 178-184), focussing on the fundamental conceptual
distinction between static ‘frames’ (in a narrow sense) and dynamic ‘scenarios’, puts
forward the two very general relations of CO -PRESENCE and SUCCESSION that are suitable
for integrating all possible types of contiguity.
All in all, the relations mentioned above (and other similar ones) are convenient
formulas that help us to spell out, at a higher or lower level of abstraction according to
(20)(i), the very general relation of ‘contiguity’ that encompasses them all. They
correspond to different possible types of relations within frames and, therefore, are all
susceptible to the figure/ground effect constituting metonymy (we shall have to return,
however, to the type PART – WHOLE in 2.2.).
2.2. Contiguity and frames
In 0.1., I defined metonymy as „the relation holding between elements of a ... frame or
between the frame as a whole and each of its elements“. This definition already suggests
that the connections between contiguities and frames is subject to variation. Therefore,
according to (20)(ii), the relation of contiguity has to be allocated somewhat more
precisely with respect to frames.
Let us start with the simplest constellation: contiguity as the relation between two referent points X and Y, that are elements of a given frame F (Figure 2b). This has been the
basis of the figure/ground effect for many of the examples given so far: (2), (4), (11),
(12), (13), (16), (17), (18), (19), and (21).
Figure 2a
Figure 2b
Figure 2c
Figure 2d
We can modify the constellation of Figure 2b in two directions. Either we reduce the
autonomy of X and Y with respect to F so that the reference point becomes the frame
itself (F = X) and the figure/ground effect concerns different internal aspects of the
frame (Figure 2a; we will come back to this issue in 2.3.), or we can modify Figure 2b
by imagining that X and Y are not totally distinct but are overlapping or interwoven in
some way (Figure 2c and 2d).
As long as X and Y are more or less on a par, they correspond to divergent perspectives
on what is partly the same cognitive „material“ within the frame F (Figure 2c). A
particularly striking example are the so-called ‘auto-conversions’ changing a given verb
to its own converse (cf. Koch 1981, 358; 1991, 296-299; 1995b, 130 f.; Blank 1997,
269-278; Waltereit 1998, 75-83; Fritz 1998, 124 f.):
(22) a. Fr. La société immobilière a loué cet appartement à un étudiant.
‘The realty company let this apartment to a student.’
b. Fr. L’étudiant a loué cet appartement à une société immobilière.
‘The student rented this apartment from a realty company.’
Exactly as in the examples (1a/b), we are faced here with the phenomenon of
perspectivization within a given frame, but whereas in (1a/b) this is a synchronic,
merely onomasiological problem, (22a/b) also point out a diachronic, semasiological
problem. Indeed, Fr. louer, whose primary meaning was the one exemplified in (22a) (<
Lat. locare ‘to set, to place; to let’), developed the new sense ‘to rent’ of (22b) that
involves a change of perspective within the same frame. Certainly, auto-conversion is a
figure/ground effect and, thus, a kind of metonymy, but a rather complex one: first,
because of the overlapping of figure and ground;17 second, because it is a lexical
metonymy with grammatical implications, namely valency alternation (1.3.2.).18 As
reanalysis frequently implies a metonymic process (cf. Waltereit 1999; Detges/Waltereit
1999; s. also below 3.1.), it is not surprising that auto-conversions of type (22a/b) are
probably triggered by reanalyses of structures focussing on a sort of conceptual and
valencial pivot, which is the RENTED OBJECT (cf. Waltereit 1998, 77-79):
(22) c. Fr. Appartement à louer.
‘Apartment to let/to rent.’
The constellation of Figure 2c is not entirely restricted to verbal auto-conversions. It
also occurs, for instance, in the two senses of the French noun hôte, expressing two
complementary roles in the frame of HOSPITALITY (23); and it may perhaps solve the
mystery of the two apparently contrary senses of the Latin adjective altus (24), that in
reality correspond to two different perspectives on potentially the same GREAT SPATIAL
EXTENSION (cf. Blank 1997, 279):
(23) a. Fr. hôte ‘host’
b. Fr. hôte ‘guest’
(24) a. Lat. altus ‘high’
b. Lat. altus ‘deep’
If we radicalize the constellation of Figure 2c, we can imagine that one of the two reference points/perspectives (X) becomes coextensive with the whole frame (F = X),
whereas Y remains an element of F, as represented in Figure 2d. This corresponds, for
instance, to the PART – WHOLE and the WHOLE – PART metonymies already listed in 2.1.
These are illustrated by verbs in (14) and (15). While it seems difficult to find adjectival
examples, there is no lack of nouns, as, e.g.:
(25) a. AncGr. pus, podós > ModGr. pó*i ‘foot’
b. ModGr. pó*i also ‘leg’
[with many parallels in other languages]
In rhetorical tradition, tropes involving PART – WHOLE relations have been also subsumed under ‘synecdoche’. But this latter descriptive category has proved to be extremely heterogeneous, comprising also semantic-cognitive effects based on relations
like SPECIES – GENUS, SINGULAR – PLURAL, and possibly others (cf. Lausberg 1973,
§§ 572-577). Yet, there is overwhelming evidence that ‘synecdoche’ as a cover term for
SPECIES – GENUS as well as PART – WHOLE effects is untenable. Actually, it is necessary to
17 Though verbalizing basically the same number of participants, (22a) and (22b) already display a different internal
figure/ground gradation: in (22a) it is the LANDLORD (la société immobilière) that is highlighted as an AGENT, in
(22b), it is the TENANT (l’étudiant); in (22a) it is the TENANT that is facultative (cf. La société immobilière a loué
cet appartement), in (22d) it is the LANDLORD (cf. L’étudiant a loué cet appartement); etc. Therefore, the
metonymical figure/ground effect of auto-conversion consists in the reversal of a complex figure/ground
gradation. Blank (1997, 278) speaks of ‘internal metonymy’.
18 Due to the verb-inherent phenomenon of valency, the complexity of auto-conversion is reflected in a reversal of
grammatical valency: the LANDLORD is expressed as a subject in (22a) and as an indirect object in (22b) – and
vice versa for the TENANT.
make a strict distinction between the two cognitive modules represented in Figure 3a
and 3b:
Figure 3a
Figure 3b
Module 3a represents the two possible taxonomic relations, SPECIES – GENUS and
SPECIES – SPECIES; module 3b represents the two possible (contiguity) relations within
frames, ELEMENT – FRAME and ELEMENT – ELEMENT, that we can call ‘engynomic’ (cf.
Koch 1998, 121, and Ms.). Taxonomy is concerned with the conceptualization of reality
in categories, on different levels of abstraction, while engynomy has to do with the
conceptualization of reality in experiential wholes, independently of levels of
abstraction (cf. also Seto’s (1999) distinction between C-relations and E-relations19).
Taxonomic processes are due to effects of abstraction (extensions SPECIES → GENUS), of
concretizing (restrictions GENUS → SPECIES), or of similarity (SPECIES → SPECIES20),
whereas engynomic processes (metonymies) are due to figure/ground effects (ELEMENT
→ ELEMENT, according to Figure 2b, or ELEMENT → FRAME and FRAME → ELEMENT,
according to Figure 2d). Partonomies (or meronomies: cf. Cruse 1986) are clearly o n e
type of ELEMENT – FRAME relations according to the engynomic module 3b and therefore
do not have anything to do with the taxonomic module 3a. The relation of ‘inclusion’
evoked by Meyer (1993, 166-172) in order to save the unity of traditional synecdoche
(PART – WHOLE effects being a zone of overlapping between synecdochical inclusion and
metonymical contiguity) is misleading, because the conceptualization of taxonomic
relations in terms of ‘inclusion’ (and their representation by Euler diagrams) is merely a
scholars’ partonomic metaphor that has no relevance to the everday consciousness of
speakers (cf. also Seto 1999, 94).
Consequently, PART – WHOLE „synecdoches“ ought to be sharply separated from taxonomic processes and definitely assigned to the category of ‘metonymy’, where they
belong to the subtype represented in Figure 2d (cf. Le Guern 1973: 29-38; Sato 1979;
Henry 1984, 19 f.; Kleiber/Tamba 1990, 10 f.; Croft 1993, 350; Blank 1997, 253-255;
Koch 1999a, 153 f.; Nerlich/Clarke 1999 197-203; Radden/Kövecses 1999, 30-36; Seto
19 However, note that Seto’s C-relations correspond only to GENUS – SPECIES, whereas E-relations cover FRAME –
as well as ELEMENT – ELEMENT. The necessity of integrating, in a symmetrical way, SPECIES –
into the taxonomic module is also supported by the existence of co-hyponymous transfers (s. n. 20).
20 This corresponds to the diachronic process of co-hyponymous transfer (cf. Blank 1997, 207-216).
21 In rhetorical tradition, the PART – WHOLE process seems to have been just the most constant component in varying
characterizations of ‘synecdoche’ (cf. Meyer 1993/95, I, 74 f.). So, if one wants to maintain the label
This choice is not only theoretically satisfying, but also more practicable, because the
line between PART – WHOLE relations and other contiguity relations cannot always be
easily drawn (cf. Le Guern 1973, 29; Meyer 1993/95, II, 171 f.; Koch 1999a, 154; Seto
1999, 96): is the bank a place near the river or is it part of a frame RIVER (cf. (21)) ? is a
garment part of a frame PERSON or not ? is the material wood part of a stick or not ? is
the counter part of the public house or is it only located therein ? etc. Regardless of our
answer to these questions, all these relations are potential bases for metonymic figure/ground effects.
2.3. Concept and referent
We defined ‘contiguity’ as a „cognitive relation“. However, since metonymy is an
effect concerning linguistic signs, we have to specify its semiotic impact ((20)(ii)). As
content counterparts of a linguistic form, there are three entities that ought to be
distinguished on the „semantic“ side of semiosis (cf. Raible 1983, 5, and s. above n. 2):
1° the signifié (a virtual linguistic entity that together with the form, i.e., the signifiant,
forms the linguistic sign); 2° the conceptual designatum expressed (a virtual
extralinguistic entity); 3° the referent the linguistic sign refers to (an actual, individual
extralinguistic entity).
Even if one considers the distinction between the linguistic signifié and the
extralinguistic concept to be indispensable, metonymy can still not be accounted for in
terms of relations between signifiés (cf. above n. 2 and Koch 1996a; 1996b; 1998, 115125; 1999a, 144 f.). As metonymy activates extralinguistic knowledge of the speakers,
it is clearly based on contiguity relations between conceptual designata. The third entity
involved in semiosis, the actual, individual referent, seems to be included in metonymic
processes only insofar as it is subsumed under a concept in whose contiguity and frame
properties it participates.
Nevertheless, despite the conceptual nature of contiguities, the entity ‘referent’ is not
totally indifferent to metonymic processes. In (12), for instance, the conceptual
figure/ground effect with respect to buses is necessarily accompanied by a shift from
one (class of) referent(s) to a totally distinct (class of) referent(s). In contrast to this, the
examples presented under (26) and (27), that are sometimes discussed under the heading
‘metonymy’, do not necessarily imply any shift of reference with respect to the „literal“
(holistic) reading of Paul and dog, respectively:
Engl. Paul is tanned. [sc. Paul’s skin]
Engl. The dog bit the cat. [sc. the dog’s teeth]
According to Langacker (1987, 271-274; 1993, 29-35), predications like these do not
involve anything other than a restricted ‘active zone’ of the global referent of Paul, the
dog etc. Now, as Kleiber (1991; 1999, 99 f., 124, 142-146) could demonstrate, certain
characteristics of certain parts are able to characterize the whole. Accordingly, the
‘synecdoche’ for the PART – WHOLE subtype of metonymy, a new term for SPECIES – GENUS processes has to be
found. In contrast to this, Nerlich/Clarke (1999) restrict the term ‘synecdoche’ just to SPECIES – GENUS processes.
normal way to refer to these (salient) parts/active zones is to choose a form referring
literally to the whole, without any real shift of reference. Kleiber calls this principle
métonymie intégrée.
Thus, we have to posit a first important distinction between ‘referent-sensitive’
processes as in (12) and ‘non-referent-sensitive’ processes as in (26) and (27).
A second important distinction can be gathered from the two following well-known examples:
Engl. His native tongue is German. [sc. language]
Engl. The ham sandwich is getting restless at table 20. [sc. the customer who
ordered a ham sandwich]
Both tongue (28) and ham sandwich (29) undergo a shift of reference in comparison to
their respective „literal“ meaning and are therefore ‘referent-sensitive’.
In (28), however, the shift of reference is only a by-product of a more important fact:
the figure/ground effect opened up by tongue constitutes a particular lexical-conceptual
solution to express the concept (FORM OF) LANGUAGE. It once started as an ad hoc metonymy that was then lexicalized in a metonymic change, leading to today’s metonymic
polysemy of tongue (s. above 1.1.). Even if it never had been lexicalized, it always
would be potentially relevant for the lexicon of English. In this sense, we can denominate metonymies like (28) ‘concept-oriented’.
In contrast to this, the conceptual figure/ground effect achieved in (29) serves only the
purpose of finding an expedient form that guarantees accessibility of the intended
referent in a given discourse. Therefore, metonymies of the ham sandwich type are not
just ‘referent-sensitive’, but also ‘referent-oriented’ (buses in (12) belongs to the same
type). In these cases, the distinction between ad hoc metonymy and metonymic
polysemy does not apply. Within a given context and on the basis of relevant frame
knowledge, a referent-oriented metonymy is always possible, and the problem of lexicalizing, for instance, ham sandwich as a conceptual „solution“ for CUSTOMER WHO
ORDERED A HAM SANDWICH or bus for BUS DRIVER does not even arise. To put it more
precisely, referent-oriented metonymies do not pertain at all to the realm of the lexicon,
but to discourse semantics (s. above 1.3.7.). They simply represent one type of referring
expressions that assure textual coherence (cf. Brown/Yule 1983, 212 f.).
Referent-oriented metonymies only occur in nouns (or noun phrases), whereas conceptoriented metonymies can be found in different parts of speech and even in more complex constellations: noun (11), (21), (23), (25), (28); verb (2), (4), (14), (15), (19), (22),
(30); adjective (24); verb + noun (13); grammaticalization (16); intragrammatical semantic change (17); speech act (18); etc. (for the special case (6)/(7) s. below). Thus, in
the valency environment of verbs, we absolutely have to distinguish between referentoriented metonymies like (12) and (29) that only concern the nouns inserted on the
discourse level, and concept-oriented metonymies like (30a/b) that concern the
polysemous verb itself and its participant roles (cf. the distinction between ‘insertional
level’ and ‘role level’ in Waltereit 1998, 55 f.; 1999, 234-236):22
(30) a. Engl. The waiter served the ham sandwich. [role: SERVED DISH]
b. Engl. The waiter served the customer.
In 0.1. we started from the conceptual figure/ground effect as an essential for metonymy. Now, we have seen that the relevance of concepts, but also of referents to metonymy has to be specified and differentiated. Since all these criteria do not totally coincide, it seems more reasonable to define, within a realm of contiguity-based effects on
invariant23 linguistic forms (Figure 4), a central standard type of metonymy (area A),
fulfilling the three criteria 1° figure/ground effect, 2° ‘referent-sensitivity’ and 3°
‘concept-orientation’. The ham sandwich type (area C) is less central, because it
displays not only just referent-sensitivity (2°), but also referent-orientation that is opposed to concept-orientation (3°). Due to the figure/ground effect (1°), it still can be
regarded as a case of metonymy. In contrast to this, the cases of so-called métonymie
intégrée ((26), (27) = area E) definitely have to be excluded from the realm of metonymy (cf. also Waltereit 1998, 31-33). They are not referent-sensitive (2°), as we saw
above. They do not raise a truly lexical problem and are therefore not concept-oriented
(3°; it would be inconceivable, for instance, that dog could be understood as a new lexical solution for DOG’S TEETH). Last but not least, they are characterized by the phenomenon of ‘active-zones’, which is certainly contiguity-based (frame-based), but only
constitutes a „silent“ by-product of reference and thus simply does not involve a real
figure/ground effect (1°; in contrast to this, the ham sandwich type C truly depends on a
figure/ground effect).
22 It is open to question, however, whether ‘role’ metonymies really arise diachronically from ‘insertional’
metonymies, as Waltereit suggests.
23 The criterion of invariance is important, as we saw at the beginning of section 1. We will have to return to this
matter in 4.2.
2° referent-sensitivity
1° figure/ground effect
the ham sandwich
the dog
contiguity-based effects
on invariant linguistic forms
Figure 4
Within the area of contiguity-based effects on invariant forms, the figure/ground effect
actually seems to be criterial for metonymy. This is confirmed by a fourth type D of
contiguity-based24 effect that has been studied intensively in recent years:
(31) a. Engl. This book weighs ten pounds.
b. Engl. This book is a history of Great Britain.
c. Engl. This book, that is a history of Great Britain, weighs ten pounds.
The conceptual effect from book in (31a) to book in (31b), is not referent-sensitive (cf.
the referential interlacement of (a) and (b) in (c)). According to Croft (1993, 349 f.),
cases like this one should not be included in the realm of metonymy. If this is a case of
non-referent-sensitivity (and a fortiori of non-referent-orientation), the shift from (31a)
BOOK AS A TOME to (31b) BOOK AS A TEXT is yet clearly concept-oriented. Cruse (1996)
denominates conceptual variants of this kind as different semantic ‘facets’ of the same
word. Semantic differentiations in terms of facets are „deeper“ than mere contextual
variation, but „shallower“ than real (metonymic) polysemy of the type A. The problem
with ‘facets’ is that, on the one hand, they tend to „proliferate“ depending on the contexts the word is inserted in, and that, on the other hand, they do not have to be
24 Taylor (1995, 125) expressly relates this type of examples to perspectivization within a frame.
differentiated at all25 (which happens only exceptionally with type A polysemies) in
many rather common contexts, as, e.g., in (31d):
(31) d. Engl. I like books.
Kleiber (1999, 87-101) has convincingly demonstrated that type D is open to a treatment somewhat analogous to type E (certain ‘active zones’ of a whole are able to characterize that whole). So, there is neither referent-sensitivity (2°) nor a figure/ground
effect (1°). The difference between type D and type E resides in the fact that the former
is concept-oriented, as we saw above (3°; cf. Figure 4). Types D and E have in common
their indifference to diachronic processes (the distinction between ad hoc metonymy
and metonymic polysemy in the sense of 1.1. does not apply).
What about our examples (6) jour fixe and (7) child (that are of the same kind as in this
context) ? At first, they seem to belong to the ‘facet’ type D. Indeed, child is not
referent-sensitive (2°), as is shown by (32c). If it is non-referent-sensitive (and a fortiori
non-referent-oriented), it is still clearly concept-oriented (3°): it is susceptible to a
conceptual shift from (32a) DESCENDANT to (32b) VERY YOUNG PERSON.
(32) a. Engl. Although being well advanced in years, John and Mary had a child after
b. Engl. John and Mary treated the child like an adult.
c. Engl. Although being well advanced in years, John and Mary had a child after
all. They treated it like an adult.
However, child is a typical example of a metonymic change. Diachronically, its first
sense corresponds to (32a); the posterior sense to (32b). This is a nonnegligible difference with respect to type D, that is immune to diachronic processes. So, we have to
posit for (6) and (7) a separate type B (cf. Figure 4) characterized by a real
figure/ground effect (1°) that potentially brings about metonymic change (in the case of
the ad hoc metonymy (6) this has not been accomplished in the final analysis; in the
case of (7) it has). We can grasp the peculiarity of type B thanks to the model
represented in Figure 2d. The non-referent-sensitivity (2°) implies that the reference
point is the frame itself (F = X) and that the figure/ground effect concerns different
internal aspects of the frame that are coextensive with the whole frame.
An important principle governing metonymic change and polysemy is one called
‘inductive generalization’ by Dik (1977): contiguity relations hold only for salient, prototypical members of the conceptual categories involved, but the metonymic process
generalizes them to these categories as wholes (cf. Geeraerts 1997, 68 ff.; Koch 1995a,
40 f.; Koch 1999a, 150 f.). This applies, of course, to type A. The contiguity between
LANGUAGE and TONGUE, for instance, does not imply that language is always and only
realized by means of the tongue (if we think of written language or of the other organs
of articulation). The principle of inductive generalization applies to type B in an even
more radical sense. As this type is non-referent-sensitive, the (classes of) referents of,
25 Pustejovsky’s proposal in terms of a Cartesian type (1995, 90-95) represents a purely descriptive device for
constructing meta-entries. The role of frames, contiguities, and figure/ground effects is not really elucidated. S.
also below n. 28.
say, child (7) in the two metonymically related senses are potentially identical. But in
reality, the extensions of the categories corresponding to the concepts DESCENDANT and
VERY YOUNG PERSON overlap only in the most salient and prototypical case: notwithstanding that we are used to conceiving of a very young person as the descendant of
somebody, we can also view an older person as someone’s descendant and we can
consider a young person independently of his/her lineage. Therefore, the lexicalization
of the metonymic sense of child presupposes inductive generalization. These
extensional prototypicality effects are unknown to type D, although it is equally nonreferent-sensitive. Whether we have in mind BOOK AS A TOME or BOOK AS A TEXT, the
extension of the category is always identical. 26
Another feature that clearly distinguishes type B from types C and E (and probably D,
as well) and that associates it with type A is the fact that it is not confined to nouns (as
in (6), (7), and (33)), but can be realized also in other parts of speech (as in (34) and
(33) a. MEngl. boor ‘peasant’
b. ModEngl. boor ‘coarse or awkward person’
(34) a. Germ. billig ‘appropriate’
b. Germ billig ‘cheap’
c. Germ. billig ‘worthless’
[two metonymic steps (a) > (b) > (c)]
(35) a. Engl. There is a book on the table.
b. Engl. There is no bread.
(cf. Koch 1999b, 293 f.)
All in all, metonymy is to be considered a prototypical notion, as represented in Figure
4. Type A, combining all three criteria 1°, 2°, and 3°, is the central instance of metonymy, whereas type B, lacking 2°, and type C, lacking 3°, are less central. Since the
figure/ground effect (1°) is absolutely compulsory, types D and E have to be excluded
from the realm of metonymy (crosshatched area in Figure 4).28
Metonymy as generated by pragmatic processes
26 In summary, we can say, from the referential point of view, that, firstly, with type A, the extensions of the two
concepts involved are, of course, totally disjunct, secondly, with type B, the respective extensions overlap and,
thirdly, with type D, they are totally congruent.
27 Note that in a case like (34) or (35), the ‘non-referent-sensitivity’ typical of type B does not concern the reference
qualities of the adjective or verb, but those of the accompanying head noun or verbal participants.
28 The systematics represented in Figure 4 also reveals the insufficiency of Pustejovsky’s explanation in terms of
‘qualia structure’ (1995, 31 f., 85-104; s. also above n. 25), that describes in the same way, for instance, cases of
type A (e.g. Engl. lamb, fig) and cases of type D (e.g. Engl. door, window). – A further type of contiguity-based
effect (e.g. My ex-husband is parked on the upper deck. He is taking the bus today.) has been analyzed as metonymy in noun phrases (Nunberg 1978) or, alternatively, as metonymy in the predicate (!) (Nunberg 1995). The
latter solution has been criticized, e.g., by Kleiber (1999, 121-148), who treats this type according to the
principles of métonymie intégrée and of ‘active zones’ (which would correspond to our n o n - metonymic type
E in Figure 4), and by Panther/Radden (1999, 10 f.), who insist on the metonymic character of the noun phrase
(which would correspond to our type C), explaining its anaphoric behavior by the principle HUMAN OVER NONHUMAN. Cf. also Waltereit 1998, 56-58.
We have considered metonymy to be „generated by pragmatic processes” ((3)(iii)).
Actually, the respective figure/ground effects are exploited or simply occur depending
on different speakers’ or hearers’ intentions, needs, or reactions. Here, we have to take
into account at least the following aspects:
(36) Metonymies
(i) can be induced by speakers vs. by hearers;
(ii) vary in their relation to Grice’s conversional maxim of relevance.
From these points, we can determine two essential problems with regard to metonymy
as generated by pragmatic processes (3.1.-3.2.).
3.1. Metonymies: speaker-induced vs. hearer-induced
The millenary interest of rhetoricians in metonymy as a ‘trope’ suggests that it is always
a device of linguistic expression chosen by speakers. In fact, this view is valid for many
metonymies. Let us take just three of the examples already cited (that in other respects
are very different from each other). The speaker who created the metonymy (14b)
Germ. verstummen ‘to silence’ was searching for an expedient expression and
conceptualization for the action he referred to; he could just as well have chosen the
already existing, but awkward construction zum Verstummen bringen. The speaker who
uses the metonymy (29) Engl. ham sandwich avails himself of a means of reference that
works very well – but only – in a strong institutional context. The speaker who once invented the speech act metonymy of the type (18) Engl. Can you help me ? had particular
pragmatic motives (to which we will come back in 3.2.) for verbalizing the speech act in
an indirect manner instead of choosing the direct form Help me ! Thus, in all these and
in many other cases, the figure/ground effect is a speaker’s choice.
Yet, metonymies are not neccessarily induced by speakers. In the case of (6) jour fixe
‘day of boring promenades and sightseeing’, it is the son who has reinterpreted the form
heard in the context of the frame WEEKEND DAY (and who uses it accordingly in Och
nein, bitte keinen jour fixe !). This type of metonymy is obviously induced by the hearer, who is confronted with an utterance of his interlocutor in a given setting. He apprehends the over-all pragmatic sense of the utterance exactly as it is meant by the speaker,
but reconstructs the conceptual meaning of one of its elements via a figure/ground effect
with respect to the speaker’s view, without, however, affecting the general pragmatic
sense (cf. Koch 1999a, 155 f.). He then in turn, as a speaker, applies the metonymy in
one of his own utterances.
That this is not mere fancy, can be illustrated by a passage from an authentic historical
text: in (37b), OSpan. pregón can still express the concept HERALD, but notwithstanding
the over-all sense of the utterance, it also could have highlighted the contiguous concept
ANNOUNCEMENT within the same frame (cf. also Blank 1997, 246, 252).
(37) a. OSpan. pregón ‘herald’ (< Lat. praeco ‘herald’)
b. OSpan. Por Castiella oyendo van los pregones ... (Poema de Mío Cid, 287, cit.
DCECH, s.v. pregón)
‘All over Castile you are hearing the heralds/the announcements.’
c. OSpan. and ModSpan. pregón ‘announcement’
In the context of grammaticalization theory, this hearer-based procedure has also been
termed ‘pragmatic strengthening’ or ‘conventionalization of conversational implicatures/inferences’ (Traugott/König 1991, 193 ff.). More precisely, we are dealing here
with processes of reanalysis. Waltereit (1999) and Detges/Waltereit (1999) point out
that reanalysis, first of all, is a hearer-induced, primarily semantic process on the basis
of an invariant sound chain referring to an invariant state of affairs and, secondly, that it
frequently implies a metonymic figure/ground effect. Conversely, we could claim that
all hearer-induced metonymies are a sort of reanalysis. Since Detges and Waltereit
could establish that rebracketing and category relabeling in the sense of Langacker
(1977, 58) are not criterial for reanalysis, this notion can be applied not only to grammar, but also to lexical units, as in (6) and (37b). Our example (22c) shows, by the way,
a reanalysis having the form of a hearer-induced lexical metonymy with grammatical
implications (according to 1.3.2.).29
3.2. Metonymies and the maxim of relevance
It is elucidating to study the different ways metonymies function with respect to Grice’s
(1975) well-known conversational maxims, especially the maxim of relevance (cf. esp.
Sperber/Wilson 1986).
3.2.1. Hearer-induced metonymies (3.1.) are simply compatible with the maxim of
relevance. The hearer imputes relevance to the utterance of the speaker and chooses for
the critical element a conceptual interpretation that beyond the figure/ground effect is
consistent with the pragmatic over-all sense.
3.2.2. For speaker-induced metonymies, the pragmatic problem of relevance, discussed
in the following, arises only at the moment they are introduced ad hoc (1.1.). (Once they
are conventionalized, there may still be a need for disambiguation, but not necessarily a
problem of relevance.) Certain speaker-induced metonymies need repair and, indeed, are reparable,
thanks to the maxim of relevance that enables the hearer to counterbalance the
figure/ground effect. A first type is represented by referent-oriented metonymies, as (12) the buses
or (29) the ham sandwich (type C in Figure 4, that is necessarily speaker-induced).
29 Further examples of hearer-induced metonymies are: (2), (7), (19), (21), and (34b/c). The status of ex. (17) in this
respect is still in need of investigation. – The phenomenon of ‘implication’ that Warren (1992, 51-72, 101; 1998)
explicitly distinguishes from ‘metonymy’ probably coincides with hearer-induced metonymies of type B in
Figure 4. In my opinion, these ‘implications’ can nevertheless be regarded as metonymies, because the criterion
of the figure/ground effect (that they fulfill) is more decisive for metonymy than those of speaker-induction and
of referent-sensitivity (s. above 2.3.).
Here, the speaker resolves, above all, a referential task relying on the maxim of
relevance. A second type recovers part of the concept-oriented metonymies (types A and
B in Figure 4), where the speaker resolves, above all, a lexical conceptualization task
relying on the maxim of relevance. Depending on the intervention – or not – of further
pragmatic problems on the part of the speaker, we can distinguish two subtypes. First,
the conceptualization task can be confined to a merely lexical problem: there may be
imprecise conceptualizations ((23) hôte, (25) pó*i), preferences for „expedient“
solutions ((14) verstummen, (15) close, (24) altus, (30) serve), salience effects ((28)
tongue), lexical gaps, etc. Second, the conceptualization task is accomplished under the
pressure of additional pragmatic constraints as taboos ((13) wash my hands), politeness
((18) Can you help me ?), etc. (For the bases of all these and other motivations, cf.
Blank 1997, 345-405; 1999b; Brown/Levinson 1987; Allan/Burridge 1991). But there still remains a separate group of speaker-induced, concept-oriented
metonymies (types A and B) that are n o t i n t e n d e d to be repaired in the name of
the maxim of relevance (and possibly other maxims like that of quantity): ((4) craindre,
(11) power, (16) wilen, (33) boor, (34a/b) billig). In these cases, the figure/ground effect
produces expressiveness (cf. also Mair 1992; Koch/Oesterreicher 1996; Geeraerts 1997,
104-106; Blank 1999b, 63-66, 80-82). It becomes a device of everyday rhetoric (cf.
Stempel 1983) that simply i s i n t e n d e d to flout the conversational maxim(s) in
order to provide scope for enhancement of the speaker’s own image, for persuasion, for
social role assignment, etc. – as long as expressiveness is recognized as such.30
The realm of metonymy
We have circumscribed the realm of metonymy, defining it as a linguistic effect upon
the content of a given form, based on a figure/ground effect within conceptual frames
and generated by pragmatic processes. This definition allowed us to observe the linguistic, conceptual, referential, and pragmatic modulations of the figure/ground effect
and to demonstrate, thereby, the wide range and the unity in diversity of metonymy. On
the other hand, the figure/ground effect allowed us, within the realm of contiguity-based
effects on invariant linguistic forms, to definitively exclude from metonymy certain
‘active zone’ phenomena (types D and E in Figure 4).
From the point of view of Figure 4, metonymy seems to constitute a (central) prototypically structured subtype of contiguity-based effects on invariant linguistic forms. But
this circumscription raises two further questions:
1° Must there always be a linguistic form of expression in metonymies ? (4.1.)
2° Does this expression always have to be invariant in all respects ? (4.2.)
30 As is well known, linguistic expressiveness tends to erode over the course of time. Interestingly, Detges/Waltereit
(1999) point out that the inevitable loss of expressiveness is due to a kind of reanalysis on the part of the hearer.
4.1. Metonymy as a linguistic phenomenon
It has been claimed that metonymies occur in and between different „ontological“, i.e.,
semiotic, realms (Radden/Kövecses 1999, 23-29). Example (38), for instance, would
represent a ‘metonymic’ relation between a linguistic form and a concept that is at the
base of any linguistic sign. (39) would represent a ‘metonymic’ relation between a
concept and a referent that underlies the referential function of any linguistic sign.
form Fr. arbre — concept TREE
concept TREE — referent that is a tree
According to Gibbs (1999, 66), „people think in metonymy“, and he posits „metonymic
models of thinking“, which would presuppose ‘metonymic relations’ between concepts,
as for example:
concept HAIL A TAXI — concept DRIVE IN A TAXI
I think that all these considerations overextend the notion of ‘metonymy’. When we
ascertained in (3)(ii) that metonymy is b a s e d on contiguity relations, this implies
that metonymy is not identical with contiguity. The latter is a static relation, whereas the
former is a dynamic linguistic process.
Without any doubt, (38)-(40) exemplify relations of contiguity. Linguistic signs develop
from a habitualized contiguity between a form and a concept (38). 31 Yet, according to
Keller (1995, 160-180) the emergence of signs (symbolification) pertains to a very deep
semiotic layer that is logically and genetically prior to metonymization. We should not
call both processes ‘metonymy’, even if we assign contiguity an important role in symbolification, and this all the more as only one relatum of the contiguity relation in symbolification is conceptual in nature. Obviously, similar problems arise for (39), even if
we are willing to admit that a concept (expressed by a linguistic form) stands in a relation of contiguity to a referent.
As for (40), concepts (or sub-frames) belonging to the same frame are undeniably contiguous. But, as Radden/Kövecses (1999, 27) put it cautiously, „it is not clear at the
moment if the form of a category [i.e., the signifiant ] is required in order to perform the
metonymic shift or if this metonymy can also operate at the purely conceptual level.“
The same problem has arisen for metaphor (cf. Lakoff/Johnson 1980, 4, and the critical
remarks in Koch 1994, 213). Though underlining the conceptual basis of metonymy, we
should acknowledge the linguistic nature of the metonymical process as a whole. This is
supported especially by the considerations in section 1 and, furthermore, by the fact that
contiguities do not automatically lead to metonymies (cf. types D and E in Figure 4).
In this way, our cognitive conception of metonymy remains, in spite of all, compatible
with the traditional conception implying the existence of a linguistic form undergoing
31 However, as underlined in 2.3., the linguistic sign itself consists of a form (signifiant) and a signifié.
4.2. Metonymy and the invariant linguistic form
If we insist on the existence of a linguistic form in metonymy, this presupposes invariance of the respective form. At the beginning of section 1, we already resolved the
(purely external) problem of sound change. But there are morphological aspects to be
considered, too. What about a case like (41), for example ?
(41) a. Engl. They ate fish.
b. Engl. They will fish salmon.
They are repeatedly categorized as metonymies (cf., e.g., Dirven 1999; Gibb 1999, 65;
Nerlich et al. 1999, 272 f.; Radden/Kövecses 1999, 36). Surely, there is a clear contiguity relation between the concepts FISH and TO FISH, but strictly speaking, the two
forms fish and (to) fish are not identical on the morphological level, because they belong
to two different word classes. Normally, we would speak of ‘conversion’ in such a case.
A somewhat similar problem is found in the following example in a slightly more
complicated form (cf. Koch, in press):
(42) a. Ital. pera ‘pear’
b. Ital. pero ‘pear tree’
There is an obvious contiguity relation between PEAR and PEAR TREE . Due to a morphological process, namely gender change, the phonological and morphological shape of
the two Italian words is not totally identical, but the lexeme is the same. Shall we call
this metonymy ? Fundamentally, the same problem arises, in an even more radical form,
in the following examples of suffixation and composition:
(43) a. Fr. ferme ‘farm’
b. Fr. fermier ‘farmer’
(44) a. Germ. Brief ‘letter’
b. Germ. Briefmarke ‘stamp’
We could cite analogous examples for number change, prefixation, idioms etc. Beyond
any doubt, contiguity relations are the cognitive basis not only of rhetorical effects, referential effects and semantic change, as demonstrated throughout this paper, but also of
many lexical processes like (41)-(44) involving a morpho-lexical change of form (cf.
Koch 1999a, 157-159). Either we have to subsume all this under the label of
‘metonymy’ (a solution perceptible in Schifko 1979), or we have to restrict ‘metonymy’
to contiguity-based effects on a linguistic form that is really invariant, i.e., we have to
exclude phenomena like those in (41)-(44).
In view of the figure/ground effect that has turned out to be central for metonymy, this
is not a purely terminological issue: ceteris paribus, it is only the conceptual
perspectivization that changes in metonymy. Therefore, we should stick to the criterion
of total morpho-lexical invariance of linguistic form and choose the more restrictive
solution that agrees with the traditional conception of ‘metonymy’. The examples in
(41)-(44) are contiguity-based, but not ‘metonymies’. This decision certainly does not
prevent us from exploring the relations between metonymy and other contiguity-based
phenomena, but it puts metonymy in its right place.
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