Cross-cultural Metaphor Awareness as a Key component in Intercultural Communication Competence

Adeleh Heidari & Azizollah Dabaghi

University of Isfahan - Iran


The main purpose of this study is to take the first step in raising foreign language learners’ cultural awareness through comparing ECONOMY conceptual metaphors in Persian and English economic articles. It is hoped that in this way we can pave the way for the development in language learners’ intercultural awareness. In this paper, the authors explored English and Persian economic articles for the source domains of ECONOMY AS A LIVING ORGANISM. The results revealed that linguistic realizations of ECONOMY IS A LIVING ORGANISM metaphor are largely shared by English and Persian, the difference being mainly in terms of frequency. This paper has also made an effort to demonstrate that focusing on conceptual metaphors may have a useful function in raising learners' linguistic and intercultural awareness.

Keywords: intercultural awareness, conceptual metaphors, English for Specific Purposes (ESP), economy-related metaphors, LIVING ORGANISM metaphor


The recognition of the intercultural dimension as a key component in language learning and teaching can be considered as one of the most significant changes over the past few decades. According to Atay et al.(2009), the final goal of language learning is no longer defined solely in terms of the acquisition of communicative competence in a foreign language, which refers to ‘a person’s ability to act in a foreign language in linguistically, socio-linguistically and pragmatically appropriate ways’ (Council of Europe, 2001). Instead, it is defined in terms of intercultural competence, which is according to Meyer (1991, p.138) “the ability of a person to behave adequately in a flexible manner when confronted with actions, attitudes and expectations of representatives of foreign cultures”. According to this definition, the notion of communicative competence is enlarged to incorporate intercultural competence.

This is not only the case in teaching English for General Purposes (EGP), but also seems to be true about teaching English for Specific Purposes (ESP). Regarding Economics, which is the specific filed of concern in this research, the Committee for Economic Development (2006) announces that, to compete globally, persons must be equipped with the knowledge and skills to behave in a manner becoming to a specific culture. Inevitably, cultural diversity will manifest within the global marketplace, making intercultural competence an extremely important skill.

According to Byram et al. (2002) intercultural competence has different components including knowledge, skills and attitudes, 'complemented by the values one holds because of one's belonging to a number of social groups'( p.11). Among the knowledge subcomponents that contribute to intercultural competence is Communicative Awareness. Barret et al. (2013) define communicative awareness as 'including awareness of the fact that other peoples’ languages may express shared ideas in a unique way or express unique ideas difficult to access through one’s own language(s), and awareness of the fact that people of other cultural affiliations may follow different verbal and non-verbal communicative conventions which are meaningful from their perspective'.

Among different aspects of language, conceptual metaphors have been shown to be an integral component of the way we conceptualize experience and embody it in any language. According to Sharifian (2011), metaphor is a tool for cultural conceptualization in any language and studying metaphors helps us understand the culture of other people. As Danesi and Perron (1999) assert, conceptual metaphor is of great concern in intercultural studies since a conceptual metaphor is the product of a cultural groupthink. Therefore it seems that through raising language learners' awareness of conceptual metaphors we can help learners develop their intercultural competence, as well.

Despite the fact that a lot of empirical studies have been conducted regarding the place of conceptual metaphors in teaching English for General Purposes, i.e., EGP (Danesi, 1993; Littlemore and Low, 2006; Lantolf, 1999; Meyer, 1991), there are, however, few studies dealing with the role of conceptual metaphors in teaching English for Specific Purposes (ESP).

Among different fields in ESP, several authors have pointed out that the language of Economics is highly metaphorical (Henderson, 1982, 1986; McCloskey, 1983; Mason, 1990; White, 1996; Fuertes Olivera, 1998; Boers, 2000; Charteris-Black, 2000; Charteris-Black & Ennis, 2001; Fuertes Olivera & Pizarro Sänchez, 2002).

This study aims at comparing ECONOMY conceptual metaphors in Persian and English economic texts as one of the key processes in an intercultural approach to language teaching. At the end of the article, the researchers propose some ideas regarding how to apply the findings of the study to teaching conceptual metaphors to the students of Economics and as a result, help them raise their intercultural awareness and improve their vocabulary learning and reading comprehension skills.

Theoretical Framework

Intercultural Communication Competence

The intercultural dimension in foreign languages emphasizes effective cross-cultural communication. As stated by Krasner (1999) linguistic competence alone is not enough for learners of a language to be competent in that language.

The best known model of intercultural competence is supplied by Byram (1997). Byram’s model of intercultural communicative competence identifies five different factors involved: Knowledge, Attitudes, Skills of interpreting and relating, Skills of discovery and interaction and Political education including critical cultural awareness.Knowledge includes learning about social groups, products, practices and processes of interaction. Attitudes involve curiosity and openness towards the other as well as readiness to revise cultural values and beliefs and to interact and engage with otherness. Skills of interpreting and relating mean ability to identify and explain cultural perspectives and mediate between form and function in new cultural contexts. Skills of discovery and interaction are related to the ability to acquire new knowledge of culture and cultural practices and the ability to operate knowledge attitudes and skills under the constraint of real-time communication. Finally critical awareness is defined as the ability to evaluate critically the perspectives and practices in one’s own and other cultures. Byram’s model has had an immense influence since it gives a detailed outline of what intercultural competence is and what kind of skills need to be considered when teaching language according to the intercultural approach. It is useful for teachers as it breaks down a complex concept into its constituent parts and also the model is specifically designed for the language classroom.

Kramsch and McConnell-Ginet (1992) maintain that in an intercultural approach the primary focus of teaching is on the target cultures, yet, it also includes comparisons between the learner’s own culture and target culture. In this way, we can help learners to develop a reflective attitude to the culture and civilization of their own countries and to see the world through the other’s eyes and to consciously use culture learning skills (Sen Gupta, 2002).

According to McConachy (2008), in an intercultural approach there are several processes which are considered as key processes. The first is the examination of L2 input in terms of its socio-cultural dimensions. Another is reflection on similar phenomenon in the learners’ L2. The next key process is comparison of the socio-cultural dimensions of L1 and L2 interaction in regard to a particular interactional phenomenon. Both the L1 and L2 are viewed as important resources to facilitate these processes (Byram, 1994; Crozet and Liddicoat, 1999; Kramsch, 1993; Corbett, 2003).

It can be concluded that in relation to conceptual metaphors which are considered as central to intercultural competence, one of the first steps to becoming aware of cultural diversity is to compare the languages in order to know how different languages conceptualize different concepts via conceptual metaphors.

Conceptual Metaphors

The role of metaphors in language and hu­man thinking has been seen differently throughout the history. Aristotle (1970) saw meta­phors as elements of figurative speech, ornaments merely used to enhance the effect of a statement “in politi­cal or forensic oratory”. This has been the main tenet of the classical theory of metaphor. From a cognitive linguistic perspective, however, ‘the locus of metaphor is not in language at all, but in the way we conceptualize one mental domain in terms of another’ (Lakoff, 1992). Based on Lakoff and his followers’ Cognitive Metaphor Theory, metaphors are regarded as cognitive tools of human conceptualiza­tion of the outer world that is given to us in senses. As Kővecses (2002) puts it, the conceptual domain from which we draw metaphorical expressions to understand another conceptual domain is the source domain, whereas the conceptual domain that is understood in this way is called the target domain. In this view, metaphor is defined as understanding one conceptual domain in terms of another conceptual domain, hence called conceptual metaphor. Examples of this include talking and thinking about arguments in terms of war, time in terms of money, life in terms of journey, etc.

One of the crucial ideas in the cognitive linguistic view of theory of metaphor is its universal vs. culture-specific character. Human beings’ common biological history is often interpreted as the universal basis for metaphors. However, since we live in different communities, each of us has a different social history showing itself in politics, economics, legal system, religion, cultural heritage, beliefs and values, etc. All these aspects form the basis for culture-specific conceptualization of the world which is reflected, among other things, in metaphors.

In addition to the significance of different social experiences in conceptual metaphor specificity, metaphor use may vary in different contexts. Deignan (2008) maintains that the choice of metaphor may differ, depending on text types and genres. This study focuses on conceptual metaphors prevalent in Economics.

Conceptual Metaphors in Economics

In general, there are two basic metaphor traditions which help illustrate economic theories and build predictive models (Henderson 1994, 2000, Grant and Oswick 1996). These two main views towards metaphors are mechanistic and organic traditions (White 2003, Soler 2008, Bielenia-Crajewska 2009, Bratoz 2004, Lopez-Maestre 2000, Koller 2004, Arhens et al 2003). Among all the mechanistic metaphors, the conceptual metaphor ECONOMY IS A MACHINE is very common which is clear in the following example:

“ the economy was operating below full capacity for the period ”

Another main stream of metaphor in economic discourse is the organic paradigm. Aspects of an economy are often described as features of an organism, realizing the generic conceptual metaphor THE ECONOMY IS AN ORGANISM observed in such lexical items as ‘revives’, ‘falters’, ‘growth’ and ‘ recovers‘. In the corpus based on the articles in the Economist, Charteris-Black (2000) observes the metaphor THE ECONOMY IS A PATIENT. This conceptual metaphor is also observed in Boer‘s research (1997) in which the illnesses realizing THE ECONOMY IS A PATIENT include 'economic sclerosis' and 'arthritic labor markets'. Other conventional conceptual metaphors in economic discourse, according to Vasiloaia, Gaisoa and Vergara (2011: 5) include: BUSINESS IS WAR, A COMPANY IS A SHIP, ECONOMICS IS FLYING, and ORGANISATIONS ARE GARDENS.

According to Boers (2000) typical metaphorical themes in economics are: MECHANISMS and MACHINES, ANIMALS, PLANTS and GARDENING, HEALTH and FITNESS, FIGHTING and WARFARE, SHIPS and SAILING, and SPORTS.

Since ECONOMY IS A LIVING ORGANISM is the most frequently mentioned economy-related conceptual metaphor by different researchers in this area, the researchers focus on this metaphor for the purpose of the present study.

Conceptual Metaphors and Language Teaching

Since the advent of Lakoff and Johnson’s Conceptual Metaphor Theory in the 1980 different studies have been carried out to show the application of this theory to the field of language teaching, particularly within the domain of English for Specific Purposes(ESP). Lindstromberg (1991) advocated raising awareness of metaphor in teaching ESP. Economics is most probably the discipline in which most research into metaphor has been done within the domain of English for Specific Purposes (ESP). In fact, recently a large body of research in this area has claimed that the implications of the results of the figurative language studies in economic discourse, especially economy-related conceptual metaphors can be used in the teaching and learning of economic language for students of English for Academic / Specific Purposes. (Alejo Gonzalez, 2011: 65 - 67). It may be argued that frequent presence of metaphor in economic and business texts may be a barrier for second language learners when approaching L2 specialized discourse. It can be stated then that a better understanding of the metaphor use in L2 economic discourse will lead to better understanding of similarities and differences between different cultures on the part of the non-native English speaking students. The writers of this article hope to provide an account for the use of metaphors in English for Economics and to help language learners raise their awareness of economic lexis, and as a result to raise language learners’ intercultural awareness.

Related Studies

During the past two decades, a rapid growth of interest in the study of metaphors in economic discourse has become popular (Boers 1999, 2003; Cibulskien ,2006; Vaičenonien 2002; Cienki 1999, 2005; Lakoff 1991, among others).

Generally, previous research studies on metaphor use in economic discourse has centered on two topics: the source domains that are used to conceptualize ECONOMY and the extent to which the corresponding conceptual metaphors are

universal. It was found that the most frequently used source domains are LIVING ORGANISM, ANIMALS and PLANTS, HEALTH and FITNESS, WAR and FIGHTING, SHIPS and SAILING, SPORTS and GAMES, and CONTAINER, and that some conventional conceptual metaphors in economic discourse are ECONOMY IS LIVING ORGANISM, BUSINESS IS WAR, BUSINESS IS JOURNEY, and MARKET IS CONTAINER (Alejo, 2010; Charteris-Black, 2004; Koller, 2004). These conceptual metaphors are found to be universal across English and other languages even though linguistic realizations of the conceptual metaphors are somehow culture - and/or language- specific (Chung, 2008; Fukuda, 2009).

Some metaphor studies focusing on ‘economy’ conceptual metaphors across languages have aimed at investigating how the concept ‘economy’ is metaphorically conceptualized in different languages. These studies include comparing languages like English and Spanish (Charteris-Black and Ennis, 2001; Lopez and Orts Lopis, 2010), English and Chinese (Chung et al., 2003; Sun and Jiang, 2014), English and Arabic (Al Jumah, 2007), English and Lithuanian (Urbonait and Šeškauskien, 2007; Zimarina, 2013), English, Chinese and Malaysian (Chung, 2008), English, German, Spanish and Polish (Bielenia-Grajewska, 2009), English and Hong Kongese (Chow, 2010), English, Serbian and Romanian (Silaski and Kil Yeni, 2011),

Despite the large body of research done on implications of Conceptual Metaphor Theory, however, and in spite of the fact that a lot of Iranian university students as majors in Economics are required to study English for Economics as a necessary specialized course, to the best of my knowledge, the present paper is the first to empirically compare English and Persian metaphors in economic texts with ESP teaching implications .This paper examines the conceptual metaphors of economics by comparing these metaphors found in English and Persian economic tests. As noted by Charteris-Black and Musolff (2003), such a study can provide an insight into the similarities and differences in both the lexicon and the discourse characteristics of the two languages in the same ESP register and as a result it can be a great help to raise intercultural awareness in learners’ of English for Economics.

Data and Method

The material used for the present study consists of 30 economic news articles containing metaphorical expressions 15 in English (11,825 words) and 15 in Persian (11,847 words). In choosing the corpus for the analysis, emphasis was put on the news articles representing global economy. The English texts are gathered from The Economist and The Financial Times. These sources were chosen because they are seen as the most authoritative and prominent economic / political magazines and newspapers with rich contemporary economic discourses and the latest material. Persian corpus was chosen from Donyaye Eghtesad (The World of Economy) and Iran newspaper. These were chosen because of their reputation as reliable sources of economic news in Iran. Both the English and Persian corpora were chosen from the news articles published in 2013 and the analysis included both the headlines and the main texts with the purpose of identification of the ‘THE ECONOMY IS A LIVING ORGANISM’ metaphor which is, according to literature, one of the most persuasive and most frequently used metaphors in economic discourse.

The procedure for conceptual metaphor investigation was as follows: firstly, the frequency count of the high-level LIVING ORGANISM metaphor was carried out through a manual corpus analysis of business metaphors. One Example for English was:

Partly, the economy is simply rebounding from a tough recession (The Economist)

The example from Persian can be:

Uneven economic revival can be a major threat (Donyaye Eghtesad)
احياي اقتصادي نامتوازن هم مي تواند خطري بزرگ محسوب شود ( دنیای اقتصاد)

Then, the LIVING ORGANISM metaphors were classified into lower-level metaphors for this metaphor according to the particular mappings between source and target domains found in Chow(2010) . For this purpose, some of the key words related to this concept such as ‘grow’, revival’, ‘reshape’, ‘ recession’, ‘rebounding’, ‘rebalance’,‘development’, ‘prosperity’, weak’, ‘rotten’, ‘humming’, ‘robust’, ‘strong’, ‘weaken’, ‘health’ ,etc. for English and their equivalents in Persian were searched for in the selected articles. In order to make sure if all metaphors were included in the search, all collocations for the word ‘economy’ were searched for, as well. Here are examples for each language for the following lower-level metaphor:

English: One is the rotten state of the Italian economy ( The Economist)
Persian: weakening of emerging economies such as China (Donyaye Eghtesad)

Then, the investigation focused on identifying similarities and differences between metaphorical expressions in the English and Persian corpora. Through this classification, a general picture of metaphors emerged, making clear which conceptual metaphors most appeared in each language corpus, thus providing a picture of how the economy is metaphorically conceptualized in the discourse in the English and Persian corpora. The purpose of this part was to see to what extent the similarity/ difference between the two languages would affect teaching/learning English metaphors for Persian learners of Economics. The framework of analysis for the lower-level conceptual metaphors for the high-level conceptual metaphor THE ECONOMY IS A LIVING ORGANISM was based on the classification adopted by Chow (2010) because based on the literature review that was the most comprehensive one in this respect. According to Chow (2010) further divided into five main low-level metaphors:


In the next part, these five low-level conceptual metaphors will be analyzed in detail.

Results and Discussion

The total number of words and the number of conceptual metaphor THE ECONOMY IS A LIVING ORGANISM in the each corpus, the number of metaphors per 1,000 words and the percentage are shown in Table 1.

Table 1: THE ECONOMY IS A LIVING ORGANISM metaphor in English and Persian

LanguageTotal Number of wordsTotal Number of metaphorsPercentageMetaphor per 1,000 words
Chi-SquareChi-square statistic: .068 P= .794

As it is clear from the data in Table 1, the number of metaphors per 1,000 words for Persian is slightly more than those in English (16.45> 12.09 Chi=.068 P= .794>.05, DF = 1) which, of course, seems not to be that much significant.

Table 2 below shows the frequencies for each subcategory of the LIVING ORGANISM metaphors in English and Persian corpora.

Table 2: Frequencies for the lower-level metaphors in English and Persian( Percentage)

Lower-level metaphorsEnglishPersianChi-squareProb.
A. The economy is growing and economic fluctuations are stages in a life cycle70.6463.58.371.5423
B. The states of the economy is the physical strength of a living organism14.1711.78.220.6389
C. The states of the economy are the mental states of a living organism2.125.641.597.2064
D. The problematic and weak economy is a patient12.7618.461.077.2994
E. Economic relationship is family relationship0.5.471.4926

As it can be seen from the table above, LIVING ORGANISM metaphors are noticeably similar. The difference seems to be mostly salient in the frequencies observed for the first and fourth lower-level categories, only. The absolute majority of LIVING ORGANISM metaphors in both languages (70.64% for English and 63.58 % for Persian) tend to conceptualize economy in terms of the first category, i.e., THE ECONOMY IS GROWING and ECONOMIC FLUCTUATIONS ARE STAGES IN A LIFE CYCLE. The other four subcategories are not that numerous. The least observable metaphors are related to the last category, that is, ECONOMIC RELATIONSHIP IS FAMILY RELATIONSHIP, with 0% for English and .5 % for Persian. As the Chi-square statistics and the probability levels for all rows show, in terms of occurrence of the low-level metaphors of LIVING ORGANISM, the difference between Persian and English is not significant.

According to Chow (2010), collocations which help metaphorize the economy as a LIVING ORGANISM are further divided into five main types as it can be seen form Table 3 and Table 4 below.

Table 3: Collocations realizing the source domain LIVING ORGANISMS in English

Types of collocationsLexical itemsFrequencyPercentage
A.1. The growth of economy‘grow’( including all forms)7251.06%
A.2. The life cycle of economy‘revival’, ‘reshape’, ‘ recession’, ‘rebounding’, ‘rebalance’, ‘development’, ‘prosperity’2819.85%
B.1. The strength and physical appearance of economy‘weak’, ‘rotten’, ‘humming’, ‘robust’, ‘strong’, ‘weaken’1510.63%
B.2. The actions done by economy‘progress’, ‘perform’, ‘challenged’ , ‘rethink’53.54%
C. The mental states and emotions of economy‘uncertain’, ‘dependent’, ‘crisis’32.12%
D. The health of the economy‘health’, ‘catch a cold’, ‘go down with the flu’, ‘in hale’, ‘headache’, ‘recovery’, ‘heal’, ‘malaise’, ‘improve’1812.76%
E. Relationship of the economy with other entities-00%

Table 4: Collocations realizing the source domain LIVING ORGANISMS in Persian

Types of collocationsLexical itemsFrequencyPercentage
A-1. The growth of economy‘grow’( including all forms) (roshd رشد )12061.53%
A-2. The life cycle of economy‘revival’( ehyaاحیا) , ‘fluctuation’(navasan نوسان ), promotion’(ertegha ارتقا )42.05%
B-1. The strength and physical appearance of economy‘weak’(zaeefضعیف ), ‘strong’(ghavقوی ) , ‘strengthen’(taghviat karda تقویت کردن ) , ‘weaken’(tazeef karda تضعیف کردن ), strength

( ghodratقدرت ) , become small(koochak shodan کوچک شدن )

B-2. The actions done by economy‘jump’( khiz bardashtan خیز برداشتن ), ‘challenge

( be chalesh keshidan به چالش کشیدن)

C. The mental states and emotions of economy‘relaxed’(aramآرام ), ‘dependent’(vabastehوابسته ), ‘freedom’ (azadiآزادی ), suffering (ranjرنج ), good (khub خوب ), optimism (khosh biniخوش بینی ), effective(kar amadکار آمد ), crisis (bohran بحران)115.64%
D. The health of the economy‘health’(salamatiسلامتی ) ,‘recovery’(behbood بهبود )3618.46%
E. Relationship of the economy with other entitieseconomic ties (ravabete eghtesadiروابط اقتصادی )1.5%

A.1. The economy is growing
A.2. economic fluctuations are stages in a life cycle

A brief look at Tables 3 and 4 reveals that the word ‘grow’ (including all forms of ‘grow’) is the major collocation that comes under the A.1 source domain. Based on the Conceptual Metaphor Theory, it is conventional to describe development of economy as growth in living organisms. As explained in the previous chapter, development of the economy is conventionally delineated as growth in living things. See the examples below for the two languages.

Economic growth and inflation are steady ( The Economist)
Mr Bernanke will mostly likely stick to his previous language and say "later this year" as long as there is moderate economic growth ( The Financial Times)
China's economic growth is now in danger of falling to its lowest level since 1990 ( Donyaye Eghtesad)
هم اکنون رشد اقتصادي چين در خطر سقوط به کمترين سطح خود از سال 1990 تاکنون قرار گرفته است (دنیای اقتصاد)
Spain's economic growth in 2009 fell to - 7/3 percent ( Iran)
در سال 2009 رشد اقتصادي اسپانيا به منفي 7/3 درصد رسيد (ایران)

‘Life cycle’ is the next major collocation representing the second part of the first subcategory, i.e., ECONOMIC FLUCTUATONS AS LIFE CYCLES. HarperCollins (2000:50) in his Dictionary of Economics maintains that the level of economic activities normally occur periodically. Collocations utilized to capture stages in English consist of: ‘revival’, ‘reshape’, ‘recession’, ‘rebounding’, ‘rebalance’, ‘development’, and ‘prosperity’. Here are some examples from the English corpus:

Partly, the economy is simply rebounding from a tough recession (The Economist)
But you do see the good side of economic development . ( The Financial Times)

In the Persian corpus, these are the collocations frequently used to show fluctuations in economy: ‘revival’(ehya احیا) , ‘fluctuation’(navasa نوسان), and promotion’(erteghaارتقا ).You can see some example sentences from the Persian corpus below.

His country must focus on the promotion and transformation of its economy (Donyaye Eghtesad)
کشورش بايد بر تغيير شکل و ارتقاي اقتصاد خود تکيه کند ( دنیای اقتصاد)
8. Uneven economic revival can be a major threat ( Donyaye Eghtesad)
احياي اقتصادي نامتوازن هم مي تواند خطري بزرگ محسوب شود ( دنیای اقتصاد)

B. The states of the economy is the physical strength of a living organism

Since the economy is considered as a living organism, it can be physically strong or it can do some actions. In the English corpus the words ‘weak’, ‘rotten’, ‘humming’, ‘strong’ , ‘robust’ and ‘weaken’ are employed to demonstrate the strength or weakness of the economy and ‘progress’, ‘perform’, ‘challenged’ , and ‘rethink’ delineate actions done by the economy. The followings are some examples from the corpus:

One is the rotten state of the Italian economy ( The Economist)
the world economy as big developing countries – such as China and Brazil – start to weaken (The Financial Times)
the economy was performing in line with expectations ( The Economist)
if the world is saying the Chinese economy is very challenged at the moment (The Financial Times)

In the Persian corpus the words ‘weak’(zaeefضعیف ), ‘strong’(ghaviقوی ), ‘strengthen’(taghviat kardanتقویت کردن , ‘weaken’(tazeef kardanتضعیف کردن ), strength( ghodratقدرت ), become small (koochak shodanکوچک شدن ) are used to capture the concept of ‘strength’ and the words ‘jump’(khiz bardashtan خیز برداشتن and ‘challenge’ ( be chalesh keshidanبه چالش کشیدن) describe the actions done by economy or the actions the economy are affected with. For instance:

Skilled workforce and strong economic base has not been able to bring prosperity to Russia's economy yet (Iran)
نیروی كار ماهر و پايه اقتصادي قدرتمند هنوز نتوانسته اقتصاد روسيه را به شكوفايي برساند ( ایران)
weakening of emerging economies such as China (Donyaye Eghtesad)
ضعيف شدن اقتصادهاي نوظهور مانند چين (دنیای اقتصاد)
15 other "brix" economies are challenged (Donyaye Eghtesad)
ساير اقتصادهاي «بريکس» به چالش کشده می شوند..( دنیای اقتصاد)

C. The states of the economy are the mental states of a living organism

Different economic situations involve different processes which are compared to mental states of a living organism in these lower level metaphors. If the situation is OK, the mental state of the economy is good and if there is something wrong with the economy, the mental state is bad. This is clear in the words and sentences in both corpora. The words used in English are: ‘uncertain’, ‘dependent’, ‘crisis’ and in Persian they are: relaxed’(aramآرام ), ‘dependent’(vabastehوابسته ), ‘freedom’(azadiآزادی ), suffering (ranjرنج ), good (khub(خوب , optimism (khosh bini خوش بینی ), effective (kar amad کار آمد), and ‘crisis’(bohran بحران) . Here you can see the example sentences from English and Persian corpora:

The aim is to prevent Argentines from responding to an uncertaineconomy (The Economist)
the risk of an economic crisis in India (The Economist)
Spain which had not already predicted economic crisis (Iran)
اسپانيا که بحران اقتصادي را از قبل پيش بيني نکرده بود (ایران)
Fundamental reasons for economic optimism ( Donyaye Eghtesad)
( دنیای اقتصاد) دلايل بنيادين براي خوش بيني اقتصادي

D. The problematic and weak economy is a patient

Under this subcategory we can talk about economic health and illness. Collocations regarding this concept are realized in English by the words: ‘health’, ‘catch a cold’, ‘go down with the flu’, ‘in hale’, ‘headache’, ‘recovery’, ‘heal’, and ‘malaise’ and in Persian by: health'(salamatiسلامتی ) and ‘recovery’( behboodبهبود ).

The following sentences are selected from both corpora to show how economic health and illness are realized in English and Persian.

the UK economy is finally starting to heal ( The Financial Times)
WHEN the British economycatches a cold, Scotland often goes down with the flu (The Economist)
signs of improving U.S. economy ( Donyaye Eghtesad)
نشانه هاي بهبود اقتصاد آمريکا ( دنیای اقتصاد)
Another reason for the growth of the dollar, is the U.S. economy’s health ( Donyaye Eghtesad)
دليل ديگر رشد دلار ،سلامت اقتصاد امريكاست ( دنیای اقتصاد)

E. Economic relationship is family relationship

In the English corpus no words are found to conceptualize economic relationships as family relationship. In Persian, however, one collocation was observed , i.e., ‘economic ties’.

economic ties were collapsed (Iran)
روابط اقتصادي سابق از ميان رفت (ایران)

What is clear from these analyzes is that in an absolute majority of cases both Persian and English tend to conceptualize economy in terms of the first category, i.e., THE ECONOMY IS GROWING and ECONOMIC FLUCTUATIONS ARE STAGES IN A LIFE CYCLE. This seems to confirm the universal anthropocentric/ embodiment of metaphorization in spite of the fact that there are also a lot of culture-specific peculiarities. The second most frequently used low-level metaphor in English was THE STATES OF THE ECONOMY IS THE PHYSICAL STRENGTH OF A LIVING ORGANISM and for Persian it was THE PROBLEMATIC AND WEAK ECONOMY IS A PATIENT. The other three types of metaphors were manifested only in about 2 -12 per cent of the total corpus of data in both languages. The last metaphor ECONOMIC RELATIONSHIP IS FAMILY RELATIONSHIP was only found in the Persian corpus, with only one case (.5%).

Implications for Teaching English for Economics

The corpus analysis done helps us to find the most frequently used conceptual metaphors in Persian and English economic texts regarding the conceptual metaphor ECONOMY IS A LIVING ORGANISM and to know the extent of the similarity/difference of these metaphors in these two languages. This will pave the way for the students of Economics to raise their awareness of conceptual metaphors in their specific field, that is Economics, improve their specialized vocabulary learning and reading comprehension skills and as a result develop their intercultural communication competence. One way is to do the following:

We can select two groups of Economics students and divide them into two groups: the experimental and the control groups. In the first session for the experimental group, the conceptual metaphors and their source-target domain relationships are explicitly brought into students’ attention through awareness-raising activities, but for the control group these metaphors are presented via synonyms and definitions. The students in the experimental group will be introduced to the topic of conceptual metaphors by giving them the Lakoffian definition of metaphor and characteristics of the target domain and source domain and explain that conceptual metaphors help us understand an abstract concept through a concrete one. The researcher will illustrate this explanation with typical examples of conceptual metaphors prevalent in economic texts. For instance we introduce the conceptual metaphor INFLATION IS A HORSE and refer to linguistic metaphors galloping inflation and trotting inflation. In each session, a text chosen from the corpus containing conceptual metaphors will be given to the students. Conceptual metaphors will be highlighted using different ways and the source-target relationships are emphasized through awareness- raising activities. Here are some sample awareness- raising activities proposed in Sacristan (2004):

Sample Activity for Vocabulary Learning

Which metaphor, i.e. which source domain and which target domain, can you recognize in the following linguistic expressions:

(1) economic growth ; (2) corporate disease ; (3) a price war ; (4) a bear market and (5) cash flow ?

(Source: Adapted from Z. Kovecses (2002), Metaphor. A Practical Introduction, p.13)

Answers: 1 and 2: BUSINESS (target) IS A HUMAN BEING (source) 3: BUSINESS (target) IS WAR (source) 4: BUSINESS (target) IS AN ANIMAL (source) 5. BUSINESS (target) IS WATER (source)

Sample Activity for Reading Comprehension

Underline the metaphorical expressions that you encounter in the following text:

Coke versus Pepsi; Nike versus Reebok; Nintendo versus Sega; the battle is on amongst the world's top brands. Aggressive comparative advertising has now reached fever pitch; extra millions are pouring into R & D, and the market leaders are under constant pressure to slash their prices in a cut-throat struggle for market domination. When Philip Morris knocked 40c off a packet of Marlboro, $ 47-and-a-half billion was instantly wiped off the market value of America s top twenty cigarette manufacturers lesser brands went to the wall. And that's just one example of how fair competition within a free market has rapidly escalated into all-out brand war.

(Source: Passage from M. Powell [1996], Business Matters, p. 42)

Answers: Coke versus Pepsi, Nike versus Reebok, Nintendo versus Sega, the battle is on, the world’s top brands, aggressive advertising, has now reached fever pitch, millions are pouring into R & D, the market leaders, are under constant pressure, to slash their prices, in a cut-throat struggle, market domination, knocked ( ) off ( ), was instantly wiped off, America’s top twenty cigarette manufacturers, lesser brands, went to the wall, fair competition, free market, has rapidly escalated, all-out brand.

At the end of the course, there will be similar posttests to measure the effect of teaching on both groups’ vocabulary learning and reading comprehension. In addition, a questionnaire designed for intercultural awareness assessment can be given to the students in both the experimental and the control groups. In order to know the differences between and within the groups, descriptive and inferential statistics can be applied to analyze the data.


The present study compared ECONOMY IS A LIVING ORGANISM metaphor in economic news articles in English and Persian. The purpose was to see whether there are similarities or differences in the conceptual realizations of this metaphor in these two languages in order to suggest implications for teaching English for Economics and raising cross-cultural awareness on the part of students of Economics. The results revealed that linguistic realizations of ECONOMY IS A LIVING ORGANISM metaphor are to a large extent shared by English and Persian. There is a little difference in the frequency of LIVING ORGANISM metaphor in the two languages, but it is not so significant. Therefore, one cannot determine the extent of the influence of similarity/ difference between the two languages on the way of teaching/learning English metaphors for Persian learners of Economics. As a result, there will be no place for such an investigation based on such a small-scale study. It will be helpful to do further investigations on all metaphors in economic texts in the two languages to see if there is similarity/ difference in all conceptualizations of ‘economy’ in these languages.

What is of great concern in this cross-cultural study is to bring the important role of metaphor as a teaching device to ESP instructors’ attention. This paper has made an effort to demonstrate that metaphors may have a useful function in teaching by helping to raise foreign language learners’ cross-cultural awareness of conceptual metaphors in English and Persian, in general and in Economics, in particular. Of course, perhaps further studies are needed to explore the implications of such studies in real ESP classrooms. It is also useful to analyze economic conceptual metaphors in more specialized contexts such as economic research articles and textbooks with the purpose of teaching implications for ESP.


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About the Authors

Adeleh Heidari, is a Ph.D candidate at the University of Isfahan, Isfahan, Iran. Her main areas of interest are Foreign Language Learning and Teaching , Cultural Linguistics, and English for specific Purposes.

Azizollah Dabaghi, is an associate professor at the University of Isfahan, Isfahan, Iran. He has published many articles regarding issues in second/foreign language teaching and learning. His main areas of interest are Foreign Language Learning and Teaching , Intercultural Communication, and translation.

Authors’ Adress

University of Isfahan
Hezar Jerib Street