What is it about?

Human languages provide us with unique and powerful ways to meaningfully talk about abstract ideas, such as our feelings and emotions. We often use words and phrases referring to physical actions or objects to describe our feelings and emotions metaphorically. For example, we could say that we are "subdued" by anger or we are "brimming with" joy. These metaphorical expressions provide more vivid ways to talk about and conceptualise these emotions (e.g., understanding anger as a subjugator or joy as fluid filling our bodies). Based on large historical and contemporary texts, this paper (i) traces the history of metaphorical languages and concepts for describing happiness in Classical Malay (c13th to the mid-20th century) and (ii) determines the extent to which these metaphors are still being used frequently in Indonesian (texts towards the end of, and after, the first decade of the 21st century), which is the national variety of Malay spoken in present-day Indonesia.

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Why is it important?

We discovered that most happiness metaphors that often appear in the Classical Malay texts also persist in Indonesian. This means that there is relative stability in the metaphorical conceptualisations of happiness across two historical varieties of the same language, namely Malay. These shared metaphors reveal, among others, that happiness can be conceptualised as (i) a possession that we received from, or shared with, others, (ii) a possession that we value, preserve and protect from damage, (iii) a destination that we want to be, or an object that we search for or hunt, (iv) a seed of plants that can germinate and grow, or (v) a light that shines or dims. We also discuss how these metaphors highlight the cultural models of happiness identified by cross-cultural psychological studies, bringing together insights into the study of happiness from different perspectives. Overall, our study contributes further insights from understudied and underrepresented languages to two ventures in cognitive sciences generally: (i) the universality and variation in the metaphorical conceptualisation of emotion across time, languages and cultures, and (ii) the inquiry on how we talk about and understand abstract notions.

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This page is a summary of: Exploring diachronic salience of emotion metaphors, Review of Cognitive Linguistics, February 2023, John Benjamins,
DOI: 10.1075/rcl.00133.raj.
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