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Zoometaphors in English, German, and Lithuanian: A Corpus Study


The semantics/semiotics of animal metaphors used to characterize humans may properly be called zoometaphors, in analogy to the well-established field of zoosemiotics. The nature of the metaphor and the zoometaphor is discussed in Chapter 2. A metaphor conveys a meaning beyond the literal meaning, often in a subtle way; it can be a way of 'expressing the inexpressible' or 'saying the unsayable'. In a zoometaphor we can also see a speaker's attitude towards the person she/he is characterizing, which usually tends to be more negative than positive. This dissertation investigates the occurrence of metaphors in which animals represent humans. Taking geographical, cultural, historical and linguistic environments of the speakers into account, animal figures in given metaphors are explained. Examples are taken from English (Chapter 3), German (Chapter 4), and Lithuanian (Chapter 5) data.

The data for this dissertation were collected from dictionaries of metaphors and of idioms in English, German, and Lithuanian. The overall data consists of 626 zoometaphors in English, 663 in German, and 657 in Lithuanian, totaling 1946 zoometaphors, comprise the data.

The contrastive study of the typology of zoometaphors in all three languages reveals that English and Lithuanian prefer a simile 53% and 58% respectively, whereas German prefers the conceptual metaphor over a simile with 92% (Chapter 6). Examples are: the Engl. simile deaf as a cuddy/ass vs. the metaphor sly fox; the Lith. simile laiba kaip bitelė `slender like a bee' vs. the metaphor juoda avis `black sheep'; the Ger. simile dumm wie ein Ochse `stupid as a bull' vs. the metaphor Mensch, dein Name ist Esel! `Man, your name is donkey!'. The most popular animal categories in all three languages, as illustrated in Chapter 6, are Livestock/Fowl (Engl. 40%, Ger. 39%, Lith. 42%), Canidae (Engl. 6%, Ger. 19%, Lith. 13%) and Birds (Engl.10%, Ger. 11%, Lith. 18%)

Future research is projected to seek zoometaphorical data from Russian and Polish.

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