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Using tenor, vehicle and ground to analyse metaphors – David Didau

Using tenor, vehicle and ground to analyse metaphors – David Didau

It is vanishingly uncommon to encounter a scholar in secondary university who does not know what a metaphor is. That claimed, it’s similarly unusual to locate pupils who are equipped to determine what a metaphor really is. When pressed, they are likely to say factors like, “It when to say anything is a thing else,” or “It’s stating one thing is anything it isn’t,” or, even more usually, “I know what it is but I never know how to demonstrate it.”

Does any of this make a difference? Following all, if learners can location a metaphor – and they usually can – why do they need to have to offer a precise definition?

I’m going to argue that the inability to determine metaphor contributes to students currently being capable to do minimal extra than place them out. As normally, the level of noticing a linguistic or structural system is be in a position to talk about its effect.

The literal meaning of metaphor – the two in ancient and modern day Greek – is to transportation. Metaphorically, meaning is transported from a person concept to one more. There is anything relatively beautiful about the simple fact that lorries in modern Greece are continue to termed metaphores from meta (concerning or amid) and phoros (carrying or bearing).

Using tenor, vehicle and ground to analyse metaphors – David Didau

So, here’s the definition I favour: metaphor is language that transports indicating from one particular ‘place’ to an additional.

What will make a metaphor?

This provides us to the unwieldy sounding terms tenor, vehicle and floor.

Back again in 1934, Cambridge professor I.A. Richards saw metaphor as, “a transaction in between contexts”. In purchase to analyse the functions of metaphor he saw the necessity of naming these contexts and proposed the conditions ‘tenor’ and ‘vehicle’: the tenor is the issue of the metaphor, the car or truck the source of its imagery. Without having names for the sections of metaphor, he argued, we operate the hazard of bewildering the romantic relationship involving tenor and car for the romantic relationship between the total metaphor and its which means.

We can also incorporate the principle of ‘ground,’ the marriage concerning literal and metaphorical meanings. Thinking about tenor, car or truck and ground permits us to demonstrate why a metaphor is (or is not) effective.

  • Tenor = the issue of the metaphor and its meant this means
  • Motor vehicle = the language applied to explained the tenor
  • Ground = the partnership between the tenor and the car

Once more, etymology is handy in creating sense of these conditions. When, car and ground are a lot more or much less clear, tenor comes from the Latin verb tenere, ‘to hold’. I’ve observed the adhering to graphic a beneficial way to describe the relationship between this a few components to pupils:

The automobile ‘holds’ the tenor and transports it together the ground from a person ‘place’ to one more.

The most effective place to start out viewing the marriage amongst tenors and automobiles is to analyze a simile. Here’s a single from Christina Rosetti’s poem of the identical name, “My heart is like a singing chook.”

  • Tenor = Rossetti’s heart
  • Motor vehicle = “a singing bird”
  • Ground = we imagine of singing birds as gorgeous and peaceful so we’re invited to assume that Rossetti’s heart (right here a metaphor for her psychological state) is in a gorgeous peaceful place.

Some metaphors are as simple as similes, these types of as that in Wordsworth’s poem, ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’:

  • Tenor = Wordsworth’s wanderings
  • Car or truck = a cloud
  • Ground = Just as clouds are randomly blown by the wind, so Wordsworth’s wandering is directionless and without intent.

By inspecting the floor of a metaphor, we can get the job done out which features of the vehicle are becoming transferred to the tenor. For instance, clouds can be dark and result in rain, but except if not said we consider of them as white and fluffy. This is the high-quality that is transferred from the auto to the tenor in Wordsworth’s metaphor.

But most metaphors are a lot less clear-cut, and this is where by learners run into problems. All far too generally, the tenor of a metaphor is unspoken. For occasion, in Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s ‘I know Why the Caged Chicken Sings’ we have work out what the caged bird signifies. This can be difficult devoid of realizing that Dunbar was an African American composing in 1899. Figuring out this we can then infer that he is probably to have consistently encountered overt racial discrimination and that he – and other black people – are ‘caged’ in that their potential is held back again as a outcome of prejudice. The vehicle of the caged chicken also invites us to contemplate what kinds of birds are locked in cages. No just one would cage a widespread chicken like a pigeon or a sparrow, in its place a caged chook is extra most likely to be exceptional, stunning or unique. So the floor of this metaphor is that Dunbar sees himself – and by extension all black men and women – as both equally distinctive and constrained by unfair situation.

Here’s a extra complicated example: “I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition”. The tenor right here is Macbeth’s ambition to be king and the car is a “spur”. The floor is that Shakespeare compares Macbeth’s need to be king to riding a horse. There is almost nothing erroneous with ambition for every se, but just as a spur is a instead cruel way to make a horse operate more rapidly, so murder is a reprehensible way of accomplishing one’s wants.

From time to time metaphors operate despite the disharmony of tenor and automobile. Even though metaphors struggle to do the job wherever there is minor or no point of similarity, sometimes bigger tension is produced by the ‘unlikeness’ than the ‘likeness’ of tenor and auto. Look at this line from Othello: “Steep’d me in poverty to the extremely lips”.

  • Tenor = poverty
  • Car = the sea, or a vat of liquid
  • Floor = poverty, which must be a condition of deprivation, is conceived of as currently being so a great deal in abundance that Othello is at the level of drowning in it. This disharmony underlines Othello’s disturbed state of intellect as he frets over Desdemona’s meant infidelity.

We shouldn’t be able to drown in the absence of anything, but Shakespeare’s startling mix of unlikenesses highlights Othello’s predicament. When a metaphor ‘works’ tenor and auto reinforce each individual other meanings are transferred in both instructions, enriching every single other. In Othello’s circumstance, the tenor (His poverty) normally takes on a liquid, clinging viscosity, whilst the car or truck (the sea) results in being an oxymoron that could never ever quench thirst.

We can also use tenor, automobile and ground not just to contemplate figurative language, but to unpick students’ comprehension of ideas like character and theme. If we feel of a character as a vehicle, we’re invited to look at the tenor they are supposed to characterize. We could argue that Inspector Goole is a vehicle for socialism, the Lord Capulet is a vehicle for patriarchy, or that Scrooge is a car or truck the two for miserliness and redemption. On the other hand, themes are tenors in look for or a vehicle. If we say that Jekyll and Hyde is about the struggle involving very good and evil, the car is the transformation of Dr Jekyll into Mr Hyde. If we say that one particular of themes of Macbeth is chaos and condition, its cars could be the murder of a king or the intrusion of the supernatural into the ‘real’ world. Again, the floor is what tends to make these autos profitable methods to depict their tenors.

Supplying learners names for the ‘parts’ of metaphor is a very first phase to understanding the metaphorical nature of the constructed entire world of language and literature. If, on the other hand, all we do is direct learners to decide out metaphors from the texts they review, we restrict all but the most advantaged to a circumscribed potential to perceive the cracks among the literal and figurative. They may possibly be able to notice the vehicle bobbing on the surface of a textual content without grasping that there’s a tenor lying beneath. Figuring out that each individual car should have a tenor prompts learners to contemplate what it may be. This, in change, makes a lot more of the car or truck noticeable. By introducing the concept of floor, we prompt students to ‘show their functioning out’ and make obvious the connections they infer concerning tenor and vehicle.

Introducing these phrases to pupils to increase their potential to analyse metaphor is only useful if you commit. You have to commit curriculum time to repeatedly applying the terms and modelling their utility before it begins to pay out off. Also, a term of warning. I.A. Richards himself warned that “a metaphor may work admirably without the need of our getting capable … to say how it performs or what is the ground of the shift.” Nevertheless, thinking in phrases of matter, auto and grounds can be a valuable way for learners to assume about the romance between the factors of a metaphor and will help prompt them to transfer past noticing into additional analytic analogising.


I.A. Richards, The Philosophy of Rhetoric.