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: The Economist, The Financial Times, The

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.

Figure 1: Fig. 1 DEX entries for ‘muncă’ – noun category
Fig. 1 DEX entries for ‘muncă’ – noun category
See Full Size >

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.

Figure 2: Fig. 2. DEX entries for ‘a munci’ – verb category
Fig. 2. DEX entries for ‘a munci’ – verb category
See Full Size >
Figure 3: Fig. 3. WordNet entries for ‘work’ as noun category
Fig. 3. WordNet entries for ‘work’ as noun category
See Full Size >
Figure 4: WordNet entries for ‘work’ as verb category
WordNet entries for ‘work’ as verb category
See Full Size >


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


(1) When the market exists to meet human needs, government requirements for taxation diminish,

making good wages and purposeful work all we need for the economics of enough. (Maclurcan, &

Hinton, 2014)

(2) I look forward to seeing 2015 headlines reflecting renewed optimism, innovative approaches to the

future of work and meaningful positive impact. (Weinreb, 2015)

(3) O tranziţie ecologică ar putea pune bazele locurilor demuncă de mâine şi ar putea transforma

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, 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, 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 combat high unemployment . (Volatility has disappeared from the economy and markets.

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 cure global unemployment on its

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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