MULTIMODAL METAPHOR (Fr. métaphore multimodale, Rus. полимодальная (мультимодальная) метафора, Germ. multimodale Metapher) is a metaphor that draws on two or more modes/ modalities to activate mapping between the tenor and the vehicle [Richards 1938], or target domain and source domain [Lakoff, Johnson 1980].  

From the point of view of cognitive science, metaphor is not constrained to exclusively linguistic domain as a trope, but rather represents human model of perceiving and construing reality. The notion of conceptual metaphor (the conceptual metaphor theory or the CMT) was first introduced in Lakoff and Johnson’s book Metaphors We Live By [1980]. They argued that people’s conceptual system at its core is metaphorical. Gibbs [Gibbs & Steen, 1999] further expanded on the subject adding that reasoning and conceptualization are embodied, i.e. all human thinking processes stem from sensori-motor interactions with the world. Abstract phenomena, such as love, life, or argument are cognitively represented through perceivable objects, human body being the point of reference. The concept of GOOD in English is thus perceived through the orientational point UP: I’m feeling up; My spirits rose; You’re in high spirits [Lakoff & Johnson 1980]

As an overarching construal model, metaphor can manifest itself and construe meaning through various signaling systems, or modes, the most recognizable being spoken and written language, visuals, music, sounds, gestures, smell, taste, and touch. Max Black [1979] and Charles Forceville [1996] outlined the mapping scheme that stipulates the appearance of conceptual mono- and multimodal metaphors. The tenor (or the word used in non-literary meaning) is put into the so-called frame or the system of the secondary subject (the vehicle). In other words, the secondary subject provides its properties, features or connotations to be mapped upon the tenor. Fauconnier and Turner [2002] developed the blending theory, according to which the tenor and the vehicle provide not some particular features, but input spaces of inner relations producing blended space as the result. 

Forceville [2009] claims that other modes follow the same pattern of meaning construal. However, non-verbal modes, lacking the verbal copula “to be” (A is B) have to construe meaning via other means at their disposal. For instance, Forceville singled out the following mechanisms:

  1. perceptual resemblance (monomodal metaphors only): one sound is shaped to resemble another, one pictorial element is modelled after another etc.; 
  2. filling a schematic slot unexpectedly: putting the tenor into a certain context;
  3. simultaneous using: showing the tenor and the vehicle at the same time, for example, a kiss accompanied by the sound of a car crash [Forceville, 2009]

One of the most common visual metaphors is an illuminated light bulb that represents a striking idea or an inspiration. 

The choice of relations the conceptualizer chooses to map is dictated not solely by their personal bodily experience, but also through accessing a supra-individual, culturally-fomented pool of knowledge. 

Further reading

Forceville Ch. Multimodal Metaphor/ Ed. By Ch. Forceville, Ed. Urios-Aparisi – Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin – New York, 2009. – P. 19-40.

Forceville Ch. Pictorial Metaphor in Advertising – Routledge, London and New York, 2002. – P. 4-12.

Gibbs R. Metaphor in Cognitive Linguistics/ Selected papers from the fifth international cognitive linguistic conference/ Ed. By R. Gibbs, G. Steen – John Benjaminis Publishing Company, Amsterdam/ Philadelphia, 1999. –  P.145-166.

Lakoff G., Johnson M. Metaphors We Live By – The University of Chicago, Chicago and London, 1980.

Alexandra Gulenkova