Neurons and nebulae: probing patterns of metaphor in original popular science texts and their translations

Project: Research project

Project Details


People often assume that scientific discourse is – or, at least, should be – free of metaphor. However, this is not in fact the case: specialist scientific terminology is largely metaphorical in nature, while science authors adopt metaphor either to explain difficult ideas or because that is the only language available for describing a certain concept. Additionally, authors of popular science – the genre on which this research focuses – use figurative language for more striking communicative purposes. Metaphor is deeply rooted in thought, and there is even evidence that it can help shape the direction in which scientific research advances. Its significant role also ensures that it exerts a powerful influence on the language used to discuss scientific ideas, an influence that is perhaps particularly strong in popular science texts.

In this research, we will be applying metaphor theorist Elena Semino’s ideas on how metaphorical expressions occur and interrelate within and across texts to a set of popular science articles taken first and foremost from Scientific American, a monthly periodical that appears in multiple international editions. We will analyse a set of articles from this publication to see how the various configurations of metaphorical expressions that they contain place the spotlight on specific aspects of the concepts described. Moving on to the translation angle, we will look at the corresponding metaphor patterns in the translations of these articles that appear, for example, in various international editions of the periodical. Up to now, analysis of metaphor in translation has focused almost exclusively on isolated expressions, an approach that has yielded some useful insights but is ultimately somewhat limited given the role of metaphor in mediating scientific concepts and the fact that individual expressions belonging to a particular metaphor pattern are often not translated consistently. We therefore aim to look at what happens to entire patterned groups of metaphorical expressions, an approach that we believe will make available to us new insights into translator action on a much higher level of generality. The distribution of metaphorical expressions in translations is likely to differ from what can be observed in original texts, which will in turn influence the way in which readers of the translations understand the subject matter. This we believe to be the most innovative aspect of the proposed research.
Effective start/end date1/01/2130/06/23


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