There are two ways of making abstract words from concrete words: one is nominalisation and the other is metaphor.

When I was working on the structure of abstract  language, I found it hard to flush into consciousness the metaphors embedded in everyday language. For example, we have no way of conceptualising time except by using a metaphor from space. (For instance, the chemist’s is between the grocery and the optician. The meeting is between 2.00 and 4.00.) For me as an adult, the processing of these metaphors had become automatic.

I’ve been reading a recent book on metaphor: I is an Other  by James Geary. He desribes research which indicates that children develop an understanding of different kinds of metaphor at different ages.It seems that 5-6 year old children have no problem with attributional metaphors (His hands were icy cold.) But they do not usually understand relational metaphors (She is a cold person.) until they are 9 or 10. The researchers suggest that this is because the younger children have not enough experience of different kinds of people to understand

Many teenagers are still learning to process the more conceptual kinds of metaphor. It was interesting that the teachers using my course at Shevington commented that their Year 8 pupils had no difficulty in spotting metaphors. In fact, they interrupted lessons on other matters by crying out: “Metaphor, miss!” With them the understanding of metaphor had not yet become automatic.



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