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Metonymy in Mind, Language, and Communication

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posted on 2021-11-12, 02:12 authored by Fu, Xitao

The typical view considers metonymy as an intra-domain mapping which involves the source providing mental access to the target within the domain, with PART-WHOLE as the prototypical relation. This commonly held view of metonymy in Cognitive Linguistics pays attention to what happens after the domain, or rather, the WHOLE, has been established. How the WHOLE is formed seems to be missing. Based on the research results of cognitive science, especially in cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, and neuroscience, metonymy is tentatively argued to be an innate cognitive mechanism involving PART-WHOLE FORMING, PART-WHOLE/PART RELATING processes. The PART-WHOLE FORMING process establishes the WHOLE from the PART: It picks up some prominent element(s) in an interactive process to form a patterned experience, and the PART-WHOLE/PART RELATING process relates PART to PART, relating PART to the WHOLE and vice versa. The PART-WHOLE/PART RELATING process is made possible by the PART-WHOLE FORMING process. Metonymic operations usually precede metaphoric operation. Metaphor is essentially grounded on metonymy. Metonymy as a cognitive mechanism is most noticeably realized in language. It operates in various aspects of language and language use. The experience pattern (i.e. the WHOLE) formulated through the PART-WHOLE FORMING process is found to underpin the process of grammaticalization, the development of meaning prototype, and to motivate such daily language use as football nicknaming and to bring in certain cognitive and communicative functions. In the light of this view of metonymy, grammaticalization is considered from the conceptual perspective as a process from the general/global to the specific/local, or from focus on one specific aspect to focus on another particular aspect within the global WHOLE, rather than the usually held concrete-to-abstract process. This also applies to word meaning prototypes. Word meaning develops due to the dynamic of meaning prototypes. When considered from the conceptual perspective, meaning prototypes generally develop from the general/global to the specific/local with the change and specification of contextual situations. The cognitive analysis of football nicknames also suggests that metonymy is overwhelming and provides the requisite basis for metaphor. The PART-WHOLE FORMING and the PART-WHOLE/PART RELATING processes of metonymy as an inherent cognitive mechanism often interact in the mind, which is evidenced in language and may be best illustrated through analysis of interactive communication in general, and dialogic discourse in particular. Metonymy in interaction is embodied in its functions and operations in dialogue and its contribution to the dialogue as a discourse entity. Metonymy operates in dialogic discourse in various patterns of GENERAL-SPECIFIC scheme. It operates in the development of dialogue and helps structure the dialogic discourse, making it a coherent discourse entity; it makes meaning out of the local utterance and relates it to the whole dialogue; it underlies the decision-making process, helping make a final decision among alternatives. It also motivates the problem-solving process, helping formulate and organise replies to the questions posed by the counterpart in dialogic discourse, and facilitating the solution of daily problems.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies


Wallace, Derek; Marsen, Sky