Culture-Bound Metaphors. A Corpus-Based Comparative Approach To English And Romanian Journalese
The aim of this paper is to get an overview of the metaphorical language used in both Romanian and British business press, in order to identify similarities and differences in the way in which work is conceptualized in the two cultures. The research was carried out on two self-made corpora, of approximately 500,000 words each. A first step was an analysis of work related proverbs, especially found in English and Romanian, in order to establish some proto-categories of cognitive metaphors. The instruments used were the automatic concordancing software ConcApp, various dictionaries and lexical datasets available online. I also resorted to manual identification of metaphors, which were analysed and compared against the anthropological framework of cultural categories, as defined by G. Hofstede and T.S. Hall. The results obtained revealed certain differences between Romanian and British cultures, in particular in relation to attitudes towards work, and especially towards laziness, which is especially sanctioned in the Romanian corpus.
Keywords: Conceptual Metaphor Theorybusiness presscultural categorieswork-related metaphors
Figurative language is one pervasive features of business-related communication in various
settings, which can be found from the beginnings of trade itself. The communicative function of
metaphor, metonymy and idioms can be found in a wide range of domains, from journal article titles, in the financial press, marketing and advertising, business presentations, negotiations, etc. Apart from the
universal cognitive concepts reflected by economic metaphors, we also need to pay heed to the
interrelatedness of semantic and social change of the language, which reflect different historical and
social moments, marked by political and economic transformations. Nevertheless, besides its social,
political and cognitive dimensions of the language used in the business domain, it also features cultural
underpinnings, revealing cultural concepts that are specific to one particular nation.
The purpose of this study is to analyse metaphors from the business discourse (found in British
and Romanian business press), and to identify similarities and differences that can be assigned to cultural
specificities. The main tenet is that cognitive metaphors are instantiations of cultural categories
manifested in the language spoken by the community that shares a common set of characteristics within a
given cultural matrix (Popescu, 2012, 2015a, 2015b). In particular, I will concentrate on a specific
business domain, that is the conceptualization of work, which, as a fundamental human activity is very
present both in the collective mind-set and the individual discourse, as well as social group
Paper Theoretical Foundation and Related Literature
The underlying assumption of Lakoff and Johnson’s conceptual metaphor theory (CMT) is that
metaphor is not only a stylistic feature of language, but they consider that thought itself is metaphorical in
nature. “Conceptual metaphor is a natural part of human thought, and linguistic metaphor is a natural part
of human language” (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980, p. 247). Consequently, the conceptual structure of
metaphors relies on correspondences or mappings between different conceptual domains. These mappings
function in a natural way, as some of them are already existent in the human mind emerging from
background cultural knowledge, as different kinds of similarities between concepts. Along the same line
of thought, Kövecses (2005) argues that the cognitive view of metaphor can simultaneously account for
both universality and diversity in metaphorical thought. He has argued that certain conceptual metaphors
(for anger, time, event structure, and the self) are potentially universal or can be near-universal. He
identified these as being “simple” or “primary” metaphors and/or complex metaphors based on universal
human experiences (p. 64). He further delves into embedded manifestations of generic level metaphors in
order to prove that they are not candidates for near universal metaphors. Besides variations in conceptual
metaphors at specific level, there exist others, such as when a culture uses a set of different source
domains for a particular target domain, or when a culture uses a particular source domain for the
conceptualization of a set of different target domains (p. 67).
According to the cognitive linguistics theory, one concept is represented in our mind through a
series of other concepts, which together make up a coherent whole, in the shape of a mental frame.
Nevertheless, there exist social and cultural, even ideological concepts that are hardly generalizable, and
as a result, they are not universal. The differences between linguistically encoded meanings in various
cultures or communities are grounded in cultural models based on assumptions and patterns of thinking
engendered by the varying environmental settings and differently conceptualised life experiences. Along
the same line, similarities that can be identified in many languages and cultures, reflect the universality of various human conceptualisation paradigms. In Wierzbicka’s opinion (1997), linguistic universals afford
a common groundwork from which variations found in various languages and cultures are created.
Considering the fact that I turned my attention to business metaphors in the two languages, the
cultural categories constituting my framework of analysis are derived from the anthropological research
pertaining to the influence of culture on business. This framework of analysis draws on Geert Hofstede’s
(1997) cultural dimensions - Power Distance Index (PDI), Individualism (IDV), Masculinity (MAS),
Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI), Long Term Orientation (LTO), E.T. Hall’s (1966) factors
influencing culture-bound behaviour (context, time, and space). My analysis is based on two corpora
(British and Romanian), consisting of articles from general audience and financial broadsheets, written
during 2012-2015. The newspapers used for this study are:
Guardian, and The Telegraph for the English corpus; and Adevărul, Adevărul Financiar, Business
Magazin, Gândul, Capital, România Liberă and Ziarul Financiar for the Romanian corpus. The methods
employed were: quantitative analysis, based on statistical data starting from headwords and collocations
frequently identified in the corpora; and qualitative analysis, in which I analysed the metaphors found
from the perspective of universality and cultural variation. The instruments used were the automatic
concordancing software ConcApp, various dictionaries (The Romanian Explanatory Dictionary – DEX,
Cambridge Dictionaries Online) and lexical datasets available online (WordNet). The size of the two
corpora was comparable, i.e. approx. 500,000 words per corpus, which afforded a greater reliability to the
The first step was to identify work-related proverbs in the two languages, after which I performed
a semi-manual identification of work-related metaphors in the two corpora, using the ConcApp software,
which provides concordance searches, and includes full editing support and testing activities, and also
word frequency text analysis. Identification of metaphor is a time consuming process, as it entails
identification of “ideational meaning”, by which one has to establish whether metaphors can be identified
in a text and if there is some “tension between a literal source domain and a metaphorical target domain”
(Charteris-Black 2004, p. 35).
In order for me to have a reference point, I took into consideration the information provided by the
WordNet online and since there exists no freely available WordNet for the Romanian language, I referred
to the DEX online information. In the following I will present both, as well as the ensuing comparisons.
As can be seen in the above table, five meanings are given to the noun ‘muncă’ (work): 1. human
activity aimed at satisfying his own needs; 2. effort made in order to realise something; 3. material benefit
gained through work; (in the pl.) 4. torture, strain; 5. in an idiomatic expression ‘muncă silnică’ (penal
labour). Mention should be made that the verb displays an inflected form, different form the noun.
As far as the verb ‘to work’ is concerned, there are four main meanings: 1. intr.v. to make a
physical or intellectual effort; tran.v. to transform sth; 2. to torture sb, to provoke moral suffering; 3.
refl.v. to suffer, to try hard; 4. tran.v. to earn sth with hard work.
The results of the investigation revealed that work-related metaphors clustered in cognitive
categories account for cultural categories, both in terms of conceptual universals and variants, resulting in
a complex mapping of interrelated cross-connections.
I first carried out an analysis of work-related proverbs in both Romanian and English, in order to
identify the metaphorical conceptualisations that have been preserved through popular wisdom. The most
frequent conceptualisation was that of WORK is GOLDEN / WORK is WEALTH: “Munca e brățară de aur2”; “Munca e prima dintre virtuți3”, “Munca înnobilează pe om4”, “Munca e mama săracilor5”;
“Munca sfințește locul6, “Munca e comoară7”, “Munca pământului e bogăție8”, “Omul muncitor, ca un
pom roditor9, Munca e bogată ca Dumnezeu10, “Dintr-o muncă cât de mică, dacă nu curge, pică11”,
“Munca face poftă de mâncare12”. Less instances were found in English with reference to this
metaphorical conceptualisation. Another metaphor was that of WORK is DULY REWARDED: “Vrednic
este muncitorul de plata sa13”, “Munca e blagoslovită, când te ții de ea, ai pită14”, “Omul muncitor, de
pâine nu duce dor15”, Prin muncă și stăruință, vei ajunge la dorință16”, “Diligent work makes a skillful
workman.” “Cum muncești, așa se plătește17”, “De unde muncești, de acolo trebuie să mănânci18”, “Parcă
a muncit cuiva și nu i-a plătit19”, “No bees, no honey, no work, no money”, “You cannot pull a fish out of
the pond without work”, “Learning comes through work”, WORK is HEALTHY: “Munca lungește viața,
iar lenea o scurtează20”, Lucrul face sănătate, trândăvia tot păcate21”, “De făcut treabă, nu mai cade coada
nimănui22”, “Hard work never did anyone any harm”, LAZINESS is EVIL: Lenea e începutul sărăciei23”,
“Poverty is an older daughter of laziness”, “Lenea e mama tuturor relelor24”, Leneșul e frate cu
cerșetorul25”, “Când lenea încalecă pe om, sărăcia îi sare în spate26”, “The devil finds work for idle hands
to do, “Poverty is the reward of idleness”, “The seed of all evil is laziness”, “Laziness goes so slowly that
poverty overtakes it”, “Munca muncitorului, pe mâna risipitorului27” (var. Averea zgârcitului se duce de
mâna risipitorului28), Leneșul caută lucrul, dar nu dorește să îl gasească29, “Când chemi la muncă, ia-ți
sapa în mână30”, WORK is PRUDENCE FOR OLD AGE: “Cât ești tânăr, muncește ca să ai la
bătrânețe31, “Muncești azi, ca să mănânci mâine32”, “Cine la tinerețe e leneș, suferă la bătânețe33, WORK
is MORAL AND SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY: “Omul e dator să muncească, să nu-l prindă moartea
2 (Transl.) Work is a golden bracelet.
3 (Transl.) Work is first among virtues.
4 (Transl.) Work dignifies man.
5 (Transl.) Work is the mother of the poor.
6 (Transl.) Work blesses the place.
7 (Transl.) Work is a treasure.
8 (Transl.) Tilling the land is wealth.
9 (Transl.) A hard-working man is like a tree in bloom.
10 (Transl.) Work is wealthy like God.
11 (Transl.) Even with little work, if it doesn't rain money, it will drop it.
12 (Transl.) Work whets the appetite.
13 (Transl.) The worker is worthy of his pay.
14 (Transl.) Work is blessed, when you keep to it, you will have what to eat.
15 (Transl.) The hard-working man won’t need bread.
16 (Transl.) Through work and obstinacy you will make your dreams come true.
17 (Transl.) You will be paid according to what you work.
18 (Transl.) You will eat from where you work.
19 (Transl.) He behaves as if he has worked for someone and hasn’t been paid.
20 (Transl.) Work makes you live longer, sloth makes you die younger.
21 (Transl.) Work keeps you healthy, sloth brigs you into trouble.
22 (Transl.) Work hast killed anyone (Nobody’s tail is lost while working – the meaning is that work does not debase anyone, no rank is lost).
23 (Transl.) Laziness is the beginning of poverty.
24 (Transl.) Laziness is the mother of all evil.
25 (Transl.) The sluggard is beggars brother.
26 (Transl.) When laziness saddles somebody, poverty gets a piggyback.
27 (Transl.) The work of the hard-worker will be spent by the waster.
28 (Transl.) A stingy mans wealth is spent by the waster – meaning that generally, the children of a stingy man will squander away his wealth to compensate for the restrictions of their youth.
29 (Transl.) The sluggard looks for work, but doesn’t want to find it.
30 (Transl.) When you summon to work, prepare your own tools – meaning that one should set an example when they want to achieve something.
31 (Transl.) Work while you’re young, so that you won’t be in need when you’re old.
32 (Transl.) Work today and tomorrow you won't starve.
33 (Transl.) He who is lazy when young, will suffer when old. șezând34, “No man is born into this world, whose work is not born with him, “Mergi, muncește ca să ai, și
la un sărac să dai35”, “Să fii înțelept ca șarpele, muncitor ca albina și doritor ca turturica36”, “What man
has done, man can do”, ORGANISED WORK is WORTHWHILE: “Decât să muncești degeaba, mai bine
să șezi degeaba37”, “Contrivance is better than hard work”, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull
boy”, “Omul gospodar își face iarna car și vara sanie38”, “Make hay while the sun shines”, “The early
bird catches the worm”, “One keep cleans is worth ten make cleans”, “Drive not too many plows at once,
some will make foul work.”, “Too many cooks spoil the broth”, “De-oi munci, de n-oi munci, mai bogat
de-așa n-oi fi39”, “Cine lucrează și tace, mai multă treabă face40”, “A bad workman always blames his
tools”, “Vorba multă, sărăcia omului41”, “More talk than work”, “A dog that barks is never a good
Generally speaking, the work-related proverbs are far more numerous in Romanian, sometimes with
contradictory overtones – either praising the benefits of industry and hard work, or sometimes alluding to
overworking which may be futile. On the other hand, there is a vast array of proverbs related to laziness,
which has represented a constant preoccupation for the Romanians, and is always vehemently criticised.
The famous story of the sluggard has entered the Romanian consciousness forever, as well as the adage:
Pică pară mălăiață în gura lui Nătăfleață42.
As for the two corpora, not all the categories identified above were found. In general, ‘work’ was
associated with the human activity needed in order to make a living and perform one’s civic
responsibility. A recurrent conceptual metaphor here is the previously identified one: WORK is MORAL
AND SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY:
(1) When the market exists to meet human needs, government requirements for taxation diminish,
making good wages and purposeful
(2) I look forward to seeing 2015 headlines reflecting renewed optimism, innovative approaches to the
(3) O tranziţie ecologică ar putea pune bazele
sistemul de educaţie din viitor, după cum se menţionează în Scenario 201543… (Ionascu, 2016)
The current economic and social situation leaves no room for outside-the-norm behaviours. Man needs
to have a job in order to survive and belong to the society. This might explain the infrequent instances of
laziness identified in the British corpus. Laziness is a luxury that the post-modern man cannot afford any
more, completely unconceivable in our globalised world. There exist, however, differences in the
workplace settings, working patterns, or company cultures: Romanians, for example, are considered to
spend too much time at the workplace, not necessarily because they are more efficient, but because
working patterns have changed, which in turn might affect family life, as well as the physical and mental 34 (Transl.) Man’s duty is to work, not to be found idling around by death.
35 (Transl.) Go work, to earn money and give away to the poor.
36 (Transl.) Be as a sly as a snake, as hard-working as a bee and as eager as a turtle-dove.
37 (Transl.) Better idle for free that work for free / Better to sit idle than work for naught.
38 (Transl.) A hard worker builds a cart in winter and a sledge in summer.
39 (Transl.) If I work or if I work not, I won’t get richer than this.
40 (Transl.) He who works and keeps silent, will do a better job.
41 (Transl.) Much talk, little work.
42 (Transl.) Fall overripe pear in Dopeys open mouth – about somebody who is very lazy and considers that everything comes for granted.
43 (Transl.) An ecological transition might lay the bases of tomorrow’s workplaces and might transform the future education system, as mentioned in Scenario 2015.
health of the employees. They may well while away their time at the place of work, finding time for
breaks or giving in to various interruptions, especially those offered by social media.
(4) În medie, un angajat pierde în jur de 1,7 ore (dintr-un program de lucru de 8,5 ore) pe zi, pe
Internet, conform unui studiu al celor de la Salary.com, efectuat pe un eşantion de 2.057 de respondenţi.
Discuţiile cu prietenii sau membrii familiei, vizionarea filmuleţelor sau a diverselor fotografii care circulă
online, cumpărăturile online, cititul presei şi jocurile sunt principalele distracţii la locul demuncă
pentru mai mult de 40% din salariaţii care au acces la Internet la locul de muncă44. (Cât timp pierde un
angajat cu Internetul şi ce site-uri taie cheful de muncă, 2014)
A cultural dimension of Romanians is that of a polychromic approach to time, a certain reluctance to
tight schedules and a preference to taking things in their own stride. This explains the need for variety at
work, in order to avoid getting stuck in a rut:
(5) Întârzierile sunt şi ele la ordinea zilei. Practic, managerii s-au obişnuit ca angajaţii lor să se prezinte
la lucru respectând' regula' sfertului academic. În plus, obişnuita cafea de dimineaţă taie în jur de 30 de
minute din timpul dedicat lucrului, iar dacă adăugăm în ecuaţie şi pauzele de ţigară, reiese că foarte mulţi
salariaţi muncesc în jur de 90 de minute mai puţin, zilnic, decât ar trebui în mod normal45. (Cât timp
pierde un angajat cu Internetul şi ce site-uri taie cheful de muncă, 2014)
For the Romanian corpus, 27% of the collocations with “muncă” were found in the construction ‘place
of work’, with a semantic prosody laden with anxiety for a possible (sometimes imminent) loss of it. A
preoccupation for the creation of new jobs was also present, especially with reference to the Romanian
labour market. Thus, the metaphorical category in this case is WORKPLACE CREATION is
ECONOMIC PROSPERITY, meaning that the advancement of an economy is based on employment of
the active population, and this idea is pervasive throughout the texts under scrutiny.
(6) În afară de firmele care au anunţat că vor face câteva sute de angajări, fiecare companie mai scoate
câte un post - două la concurs, astfel că avem în prezent 1.900 de locuri de muncăvacante în Cluj, chiar
dacă o parte dintre acestea se ocupă prin migrare de la o companie la alta46. (Ciriperu, & Mihai, 2014)
(7) The Juncker investment plan may have many flaws but, if directed to the right opportunities, it
could be the best option available to boost growth and employment. (Cash-rich European groups need to
follow Juncker’s lead, 2014)
The UNEMPLOYMENT is an ENEMY metaphor, identified by Charteris-Black (2005, p. 91), is also
present in our British corpus. It was not found in the Romanian corpus, apparently because in the
Romanian culture, although a more serious issue than in the UK, unemployment is still something that
people need to learn to deal with.
(8) Since 2008 America, like many other countries, hasstruggled with slack demand and high
unemployment. (Janet Yellen will stick to her predecessor’s expansionary policies, 2013)
44(Transl.) On average,an employee wastes approximately 1.7 hours (out of an 8.5-hour programme) a day surfing the Internet, according to a study by Salary.com, carried out on a sample of 2,057 respondents. Discussions with friends or family members, watching short movies or various photos that are available online, online shopping, reading the press and gaming are the main distractions at the place of work for more than 40% of the employees that have Internet access at work.
45 (Transl.) Late arrivals are also frequent. Practically, managers got used to their employees’ coming to work obeying the ‘academic quarter’ law. Moreover, the customary ‘morning cigarette’ cuts approximately 30 minutes of the time dedicated to work, and if we add the smoking breaks to the equation, it results that many employees work daily around 90 minutes less than they normally should.
46 (Transl.) Except for the companies that announced they would make some hundreds hirings, each company will advertise one or two openings, so that we currently have 1900 vacancies in Cluj, even if part of these will be occupied through migrating from one company to another.
(9) Of course, with short-term interest rates stuck at zero, the Fed has also found it harder to stimulate
the economy to
That could be a problem, 2014)
By extension, the above metaphor has some variation in the shape of UNEMPLOYMENT is A
(10) Even if Mr Weiner’s grand vision were realised, it could not
own, though richer data ought to make a difference. (The social network has already shaken up the way
professionals are hired. Its ambitions go far beyond that, 2014)
Even the lack of trained workers is a disease:
(11) Lipsa absolvenţilor de şcoli profesionale a devenit în ultimii ani „tumoarea” pieţei muncii din
provincie, având în vedere că multe companii, în special din industrie, caută candidaţi care să cunoască o meserie47. (Mihai, & Dorobanţu 2015)
There are universal instantiations (especially in relation with the benefits of work and in close
connection with religious culture and practices), but also group-related ones (closely connected with work
distribution patterns, as well as purely individual instantiations. These categories are not clear-cut and
well defined, as there is an osmotic dynamics between these levels and categories. On the other hand,
there are untranslatable concepts and metaphorical language chunks. An extremely interesting aspect is to
be found in metaphors about laziness (procrastination), much more frequent in Romanian, much more
consistently sanctioned, in an ironical and sarcastic vein when compared to English, whereas in English
we found a more neutral and impersonal vein.
The relationship between language and culture is undoubtedly indissoluble, however, it is
extremely revealing to see how economic, social and political advancements have changed or enhanced
the conceptualisations of various human activities, in our case, those related to work. The patterns and
structures of work have undergone different developmental stages, also influenced by the cultures of the
different linguistic groups. Some conceptual metaphors connected with work, e.g. WORK is HEALTHY
have almost disappeared, while others were preserved, e.g. WORK is MORAL AND SOCIAL
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