Thursday, November 17, 2011

Those interested in metonymy must explain why metonymy is required

Speaking of veterans, this just in:

The Department of Defense is now funding the study of metaphors. The full description is here (h/t G-Fav), but in brief, the DoD is interested in "exploit[ing] the use of metaphorical language to gain insights into underlying cultural beliefs"; i.e., to figure out what it means when a particular nation or political faction uses one kind of metaphor rather than another. Is life a journey, or a playscript?

The report includes this sweetly wonky explanation of what metaphors are:
Metaphors have been known since Aristotle (Poetics) as poetic or rhetorical devices that are unique, creative instances of language artistry (e.g., The world is a stage). Over the last 30 years, metaphors have been shown to be pervasive in everyday language and to reflect cultural beliefs.

Metaphors shape how people think about complex topics and can influence beliefs...Metaphors are associated with affect; affect influences behavior. This association has been confirmed through neuro-science experiments.
(There's also a great description of metonymy, and later the stern warning, "Metonymy will be in addition to metaphors. Those interested in metonymy must explain why metonymy is required.")

The project's goal is to "automat[e] the discovery, framing and categorization of linguistic metaphors in large amounts of textual data in multiple languages"--in other words, to push a whole lotta text through a whole lotta computers--but since I'm skeptical that figurative language conforms to any pattern that can be modeled, I see huge potential here for us: when the computerized model fails, the Defense Department will be forced to hire a platoon of humanities PhDs.



G-Fav said...

Do not taunt IARPA.


St. Eph (who no longer pretends to have a blog) said...

My significant other is absolutely fascinated by this project, as both a poet and a military kid. And it's encouraging to me that there's someone in charge of Big Things who thinks the way we talk about stuff is important. But it's also deeply weird.