Old English Newsletter


Back  |  Print


Mapping Metaphor with the Historical Thesaurus


Carole Hough and Christian Kay


As announced at the ISAS 2011 conference in Madison, a major research project is now underway at the University of Glasgow, Scotland UK, to investigate the development and extent of metaphor in the English language from Old English to the present day. Mapping Metaphor with the Historical Thesaurus is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council from January 2012 to December 2014 (grant reference AH/I02266X/1), and uses the electronic database underlying the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary (C. Kay, J. Roberts, M. Samuels and I. Wotherspoon, eds, 2009) to identify lexical overlap between different semantic categories. Only a small subsection of this overlap is due to metaphor – the rest represents polysemy, homonymy and so on -

so the data are then analysed qualitatively in order to identify systematic metaphorical links between categories. This stage is the most time-consuming, and has currently reached about the half-way mark. We expect it to be approaching completion by the time of the project colloquium, to be held in Glasgow from 28–29 March 2014. The keynote speaker will be Antonette diPaolo Healey, who will draw on data from both the Dictionary of Old English and Mapping Metaphor projects in order to examine metaphors relating to the Body. Other speakers will discuss metaphors relating to different semantic categories, such as Faith, Fear, Flavour and Friendship, again using Mapping Metaphor project data as source material.

The primary output of the project will be an annotated 'Metaphor Map,' made freely available online in order to allow users to carry out their own searches for metaphorical links between semantic categories, either throughout the history of English or during a particular segment of time such as the Anglo-Saxon period. Three print outputs are also planned. A volume of papers arising from the colloquium will present a series of case studies focusing on metaphor in different semantic domains in English. A monograph will address key aspects of metaphor theory in light of the project's findings, and an atlas of English metaphor will offer visual displays of metaphorical links past and present.

The following conference papers and invited talks have been given:

  • Alexander, M. "Mapping metaphors and the Historical Thesaurus of English.' Invited talk at BL Labs launch event, British Library, London, 25 March 2013.
  • Alexander, M. "Mapping metaphors of power and authority in the Historical Thesaurus of English.' PALA, Heidelberg, Germany, 31 July – 4 August 2013.
  • Alexander, M. and W. Anderson. "Putting the cogs in cognition: knowledge in the Historical Thesaurus.' Researching and Applying Metaphor (RaAM), Lancaster, 4–7 July 2012.
  • Alexander, M., W. Anderson, E. Bramwell, F. Edmonds, C. Hough and C. Kay. "Blackguards, whitewash, yellow belly and blue collars: metaphors of English colours.' Third Progress in Colour Studies Conference, Glasgow, 10–13 July 2012.
  • Alexander, M. and E. Bramwell. "Mapping metaphors of wealth and want: a digital approach.' Digital Humanities Congress (DHC), Sheffield, 6–8 September 2012.
  • Anderson, W. "Shining new light on metaphor with the Historical Thesaurus.' Invited talk to the Linguistic Circle, University of Edinburgh, 28 February 2013.
  • Anderson, W. and M. Alexander. "Making sense of metaphor: Mapping Metaphor with the Historical Thesaurus.' Language in Glasgow, University of Glasgow, 9 March 2012.
  • Anderson, W. and E. Bramwell. "Fifty shades of metaphor: light and darkness in the Historical Thesaurus.' Talk given to the English Language Research Seminar, University of Glasgow, 17 January 2013.
  • Anderson, W. and E. Bramwell. "Mapping Metaphor with the Historical Thesaurus.' Talk to the Scottish Society of the Chartered Institute of Linguists, Dundee, 18 May 2013.
  • Anderson, W. and E. Bramwell. "Of anoraks and oysters: metaphors of social communication in the Historical Thesaurus.' BAAL annual meeting, Edinburgh, 5–7 September 2013.
  • Bramwell, E. "Vessels, kittens and bits of muslin: mapping metaphors of people with the Historical Thesaurus.' Stockholm Metaphor Festival, Stockholm, 29–31 August 2013.
  • Hamilton, R. "Colourful metaphors: reflecting culture and time.' Researching and Applying Metaphor (RaAM), Lancaster, 4–7 July 2012.
  • Hamilton, R. "Exploring the metaphorical use of colour with the Historical Thesaurus.' Third Progress in Colour Studies Conference, Glasgow, 10–13 July 2012.
  • Hamilton, R. "Blue blood and blue collars: the figurative uses of blue in English.' Colour Language and Colour Categorization Conference, Tallinn, Estonia, 4–7 June 2013.
  • Hough, C. "Mapping Metaphor with the Historical Thesaurus.' Twenty-Second Annual Study Conference of the Society for Name Studies in Britain and Ireland, Glasgow, 5–8 April 2013.

The project team is as follows:

Principal Investigator: Dr Wendy Anderson

Co-Investigators: Dr Marc Alexander, Professor Carole Hough, Professor Christian Kay

Research Assistant: Dr Ellen Bramwell

Project Technician: Flora Edmonds

PhD Student and Project Assistant: Rachael Hamilton

Project Assistants: Dr Fraser Dallachy, Iain Edmonds, George Hardwick, Daria Izdebska, Ross McLachlan, Cerwyss O'Hare, Dr Judith Paterson, Beth Ralston, Heather Valentine

School Digital Humanities Research Officer: Brian Aitken

Advice and support are provided by a network of distinguished scholars, who are as follows:

Dr Kathryn Allan (University College London)

Jean Anderson (University of Glasgow)

Dr Kenneth Austin (University of Bristol)

Dr Carole Biggam (University of Glasgow)

Professor John Corbett (University of Macau)

Dr Philip Durkin (University of Oxford, Oxford English Dictionary)

Professor Antonette Healey (University of Toronto)

Professor Jim McGonigal (University of Glasgow)

Professor Andrew Prescott (King's College London)

Professor Jane Roberts (University of London)

Professor Jeremy Smith (University of Glasgow)

Professor Irma Taavitsainen (University of Helsinki)

Dr Alison Wiggins (University of Glasgow)

Irené Wotherspoon (University of Glasgow)

Further information, including a regular blog, is available on the project website at http://www.gla.ac.uk/metaphor/.