Metaphors of a conflicted self in the journals of Sylvia Plath

Demjén, Zsófia (2010). Metaphors of a conflicted self in the journals of Sylvia Plath. In: Annual Conference of the Poetics and Linguistics Association (PALA), 20-25 Jul 2010, Genoa, Italy.

Abstract

This paper presents some of the results of a study that aims to investigate how mental states can be conveyed linguistically in texts of a personal nature. Figurative language, in particular metaphor and metonymy, are generally understood to play an important role in the expression of such complex phenomena (Lakoff and Johnson, 1999; Kövecses, 2000; Meier and Robinson, 2005). The study therefore looks at the metaphors used to convey mental states in the Smith Journal of ‘The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath’. Mental state here refers to various aspects of cognitive functioning, but the focus, in particular, is on mental states of affect i.e. those mental states that are intrinsically valenced (Ortony and Turner, 1990). Sylvia Plath’s journal provides particularly rich data due to the writer’s linguistic creativity and documented mental health issues, the experience of which she continually explores. Specifically then, this paper focuses on metaphors of motion (or lack thereof) and so called split self metaphors.

Both manual intensive analysis and automated corpus methodologies are employed in the investigation: the Wmatrix corpus tool (Rayson, 2009) is used to identify semantic fields that are potential source and target domains in order to obtain a comprehensive picture of metaphor use. In depth analysis is then conducted manually on a sample of journal entries. The MIP procedure (Pragglejaz, 2007) is used for metaphor identification, and interpretations draw on research in other fields, especially psychology, on representations of affect. Metaphors of mental state are analyzed in terms of their implications for conveying a sense of intensity, valency and creativity.

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