Image schema is a notion that first appears in the works of M. Johnson and G. Lakoff in the 1980s. The scholars speak of a close connection between image schemas and the bodily experience that a person acquires in the process of interaction with the world around. Image schemas present notions schematically, reflecting the shape of an object, its location, the trajectory of movement etc.
Many concepts and everyday expressions can be presented as image schemas. M. Johnson and G. Lakoff single out a number of basic image schemas. Here are some examples:
1. Container. Every day we come across a great number of containers in the broadest sense: we inhale air INTO our lungs and exhale it OUT OF them (that is, our lungs are in fact containers for air), every morning we squeeze toothpaste OUT OF the tube, and after that pour coffee INTO a cup (Johnson). On the basis of this bodily experience an image schema of container is formed in our mind. The parts of the schema are borders, which divide the outside from the inside (Lakoff). There are a lot of expressions and metaphors that are based on this idea. For instance, the English expression “to be in love” can be seen in the following way: love is a container, and the person is inside this container. We can also think of a Russian expression “уйти с головой в работу” (to immerse oneself in the work). Here work can also be seen as a container with this very workaholic inside it.
2. Part-whole. We can find the relations between a part and the whole everywhere. We speak of body parts, military units, about faculties that are parts of a single educational institution. The elements of this image schema are parts, the whole and their configurations (Lakoff). Numerous metaphors are based on this image schema. As a vivid example, we can think of the idea of family in Russian culture, where the husband is seen as the head and the wife – as the neck, and together they form a whole, with the marriage as the basis for this unity: bride and groom become man and wife, they become parts of a single organism – a family. The divorce is in its turn regarded as a reverse process, when a family as a whole splits in two parts. This conceptualization of divorce is reflected in one of its names: “splitting up”, which literally means “division” (Lakoff).
3. Source-path-goal. Whenever we go, we depart from a starting point, make a journey, and in the end reach the goal. As the main components of this image schema we can single out the starting and the ending point, the path and the direction (Lakoff). The classical example of this image schema is “to go a long way towards” fame/success, which exists both in English and Russian (“проделать долгий путь к чему-либо”). In this case the beginning of the career is the starting point, the fame is the ending point, the direction is the direction towards success, and the way is all the stages that a person has to go through before reaching their aim.
Johnson and G. Lakoff also give examples of other image schemas: “connection”, “centre-periphery”, “up-down” etc. The meaning of prepositions, different notions of grammar are also described through image schemas. The idea has found further development in the works of many authors (J. M. Mandler, C. P. Cánovas, R. W. Gibbs), who write about their different characteristics and spheres of application.
Johnson M., The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination, and Reason. – Chicago – London: The University of Chicago Press, 1990.
Lakoff G.Women, fire, and dangerous things: What categories reveal about the mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.
Mandler J. M., Cánovas C. P. On defining image schemas // On Language and Cognition, UK Cognitive Linguistics Association, 2004. – Vol. 6. – P. 510–532.
Valeriya Denisova (Ph.D. student)
Translated by Alina Strugova