Fire metaphors: discourses of awe and authority

Posted on March 10, 2016 by

This week’s LEL Research Seminar features Jonathan Charteris-Black (UWE) on Fire metaphors: discourses of awe and authority. It’s in Samuel Alexander SG1 at 4.15pm on Tuesday 15th March. Here’s the abstract:

This paper proposes that the symbolic force of fire metaphors– words such as ‘spark’; ‘ignite’; ‘fuel’ and ‘inflame’ – in discourses of authority originates in their role in discourses of awe: religious language designed to create feelings of reverence and wonder. I show how corpus analysis assists in identifying the conceptual basis of fire metaphors. I consider evidence from cognitive linguistics that concepts originating in embodied experience as well as in experience of actual fire can account for metonyms and metaphors employing fire-related lexis in political and religious language.

Fire and emotion are both highly salient entities, one is external and one is internal, they vary in intensity and can be controlled to varying degrees. These variations in intensity and control are grounded in metonymic experience of fire and embodied experience of temperature. I propose to draw on cognitive semantic approaches (e.g. Kövecses 2000 & Charteris-Black 2004) & force dynamics (Talmy 1988) to account for the occurrence of conceptually related fire metaphors in both religious and political discourses.


  • Charteris-Black, J. (forthcoming). Fire Metaphors: Discourses of Awe & Authority. London: Bloomsbury.
  • Charteris-Black, J. (2004), Corpus Approaches to Critical Metaphor Analysis, Basingstoke & New York: Palgrave-MacMillan.
  • Kövecses, Z. (2000), Metaphor and Emotion: Language, Culture, and Body in Human Feeling, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Talmy, L. (1988). Force dynamics in language and cognition. Cognitive Science, 12, 49–100.

Featured image: fire from loppings, by Pavel Ševela, from Wikimedia Commons.