Primary metaphors: Importance as size and weight in a comparative perspective

Ning Yu, Lu Yu, Yue Christine Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


This is a linguistic study of two primary metaphors with the same target-domain concept, “IMPORTANCE IS SIZE” and “IMPORTANCE IS WEIGHT,” in English and Chinese. It is suggested that these two primary metaphors are derived from the OBJECT image schema, abstracted from our embodied, sensorimotor experience, especially our visual and tactile perception, in dealing with physical objects in everyday life. The study focuses on size and weight adjectives in both languages and on linguistic evidence in two areas: their lexicalizations of the importance senses as found in the dictionaries, and their roles in the instantiation of the two primary metaphors in natural discourse as found in the corpora. Our further analysis also shows that the primary metaphors can be manifested without explicit use of size and weight words when relevant conceptual frames in the source, evoked by other words or images, are mapped onto the target domain, thus activating the relevant region of our encyclopedic knowledge and triggering off the primary metaphors in our conceptual system. We also construct a hypothetical mapping scheme for primary metaphors based on the OBJECT image schema, in which OBJECT is mapped onto its target via three of its fundamental dimensions: SIZE, WEIGHT, and SOLIDITY. It is hoped that this mapping scheme will benefit future comparative studies of primary metaphors across languages and cultures in a more systematic way.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)231-249
Number of pages19
JournalMetaphor and Symbol
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Communication
  • Linguistics and Language


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