A discourse dynamics investigation of metonymy in talk

Biernacka, Ewa (2013). A discourse dynamics investigation of metonymy in talk. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000d5c8


In marked contrast to metonymy research based on invented examples and intuitive judgments, this thesis presents a picture of metonymy in discourse derived from empirical analysis of authentic language. Using the discourse dynamics framework (Cameron 2010b), metonymy is investigated in a 17,889 word focus group discussion about the risk of terrorism. To aid and enrich the analysis of metonymic expressions identified in the focus group data, they are tracked in the Oxford English Corpus (OEC) and the Nexis UK database (Nexis®UK 2008). The research design applied in the thesis enables a multi-faceted appreciation of the phenomenon of metonymy in language.

Responding to an important methodological issue and a gap in the field, the thesis develops and applies a metonymy identification procedure. and offers the first quantitative results to date for metonymy density in language. Findings illuminate the new metonymy category SPECIFIC DATE FOR EVENT HAPPENING ON THAT DATE, instances of interplay of metonymy and metaphor, and cases of what are termed cultural metonymies. The thesis also argues, however, that a vital part of the picture of metonymy is missed if the investigation does not pursue cases which are beyond the procedure. While many metonymies can be identified in discourse by following the procedure, the major advantage of the discourse dynamic framework is it can uncover varying forms of metonymy. Metonymy is found in speakers' use of pronouns in a process labelled metonymic shifting of pronominal reference (MSPR) and it is involved in metonymic processing of scenarios and metonymic processing of stories stretching over longer fragments of talk. Complexity of metonymic language leads the research to an analytic level which has the potential of revealing more about the core of metonymy and its complex nature.

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