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Sustainability of phraseological image in discourse.


My interest lies in figurative language in general and in phraseology in particular. Cognitive science has demonstrated that figurative language is a tool of the human mind (Lakoff & Johnson, 2003). It is a systematic and orderly part of human cognition processes (Gibbs, [1994] 1999: 450), and phraseology (1) is part of this system. Sustainability (2) is a largely unexplored phenomenon in phraseology. By definition a phraseological unit (3) (PU) does not exceed the limits of a sentence in its base form (4), or in its core use (5). However, in discourse a PU may extend not only across sentence or paragraph boundaries but also larger stretches of text, constituting a continuity. PUS are sustainable in use, which is only natural as figurative meaning is one of their inherent properties. Figurative language reflects figurative thought. As thought is sustainable, so is figurative language. Its interpretation calls for linguistic and cognitive processing to reveal the whole wealth and variety.


My approach is cognitive stylistic (7), which gives an opportunity to draw on cognitive science to comprehend and interpret the creative use of PUS. My analysis of sustainability as one of the key concepts of instantial stylistic use (6) is based on D.H. Lawrence's short story "Rawdon's Roof' (Lawrence, [1930] 1978), which is a striking example of sustained instantial use of a Phraseological image, testifying to his narrative skills. Let me start with the opening paragraph of D.H. Lawrence's short story "Rawdon's Roof':

under one's roof (8)

Rawdon was the sort of man who said, privately, to his men friends, over a glass of wine after dinner: 'No woman shall sleep again under my roof!' (p.69)

The PU under one's roof is metonymic in its base form (9). It is a synecdoche, to be more precise, as under one's roof stands for "in one's home", based on a contiguous relation (part-whole). In the first paragraph the PU appears in its core use. When reading the short story, the PU under one's roof catches the eye with obtrusive regularity. As the story unfolds, it appears sixteen times, undergoing creative changes, acquiring new associations and figurative ties in discourse, resulting in shifts in meaning seeking to create a psychological insight into human emotions and experience, which is an integral part of D.H. Lawrence's writing.

Much has been written on metaphor as a figure of thought and language, while metonymy has been less researched, although it has also been recognized as a fundamental part of our conceptual system and a pervasive feature of human thought (Gibbs, [1979] 1998; Dirven, 1993; Gibbs, [1994] 1999; Lakoff & Johnson, [1980] 2003 Barcelona, 2000; Kovesces, 2002;). The role of tropes (10) and their combinations present special interest, and Lakoff and Turner have demonstrated how metaphor and metonymy can fit together to form complex and novel combinations (Lakoff & Turner, 1989).

Human ability to think metonymically (11) may be reflected in separate words, free word combinations or in PUS. The reflection of the metonymic modes of thought in idioms in their core use has been discussed by Gibbs who indicates that metonymy helps motivate idiom meaning, as metonymy is a fundamental part of our conceptual system whereby people take one well-understood or easily perceived aspect of something to represent or stand for the thing as a whole (Gibbs, 1995: 111). However, there is no special research on metonymic reasoning in instantial stylistic use of PUS to my knowledge. Discoursal instantiations frequently seem to follow the rule "Expect the unexpected!" Moreover, novel metonymic expressions can be more difficult, as Gibbs notes (Gibbs, [1994] 1999: 320).

As we continue reading the first page of D.H.Lawrence's short story, we come across the first case of instantial stylistic use 10 lines below. The metonymic potential of the base form under one's roof has been expanded in instantial use, turning it into a metonymic pun:

under one's roof

'No, I've come to the determination that no woman shall ever sleep under my roof again--not even a female cat!'

One looked at the roof and wondered what it had done a miss. Besides, it wasn't his roof. He only rented the house. What does a man mean, anyhow, when he says 'my roof ' ? My roof! The only roof I am conscious of having, myself, is the top of my head. However, he hardly can have meant that no woman should sleep under the elegant dome of his skull. (p.69)

Metonymy is not merely a referential device, it also serves the function of providing understanding and organising our thoughts and actions (Lakoff & Johnson, [1980] 2003: 3639). From the cognitive psychological point of view the endlessly shifting flow of thoughts, which are experienced in our mind, determines language in use: all the textual changes and developments, including novel metonymic shifts. Thus, the point is "the representation of meaning in human thought" (Gibbs, 2002: 83) and in this instance--the reflection of a metonymic mode of thinking.

What is striking in this instantiation is how a metonymic PU turns into extended pun: the meaning is no longer abstract but concrete. This is an interesting feature--turning from the abstract phraseological meaning, which is a figurative perception, to the sense of sight, which is a physical perception. The shift from the figurative to the literal, resulting in a pun, activates the visual area of the brain. The pun calls forth mental visualisation (12) and demonstrates the role of the sense of sight in mental and in visual perception. With the help of the sense of vision, perception secures a link between understanding and sight (13). It is a perception, which derives mainly from the sense of vision, which provides motivated explanation for certain aspects of language structure (Popova, 2003: 135).

In cognitive psychology sight is viewed as a primary sense in cognition, people rely on sight more than on other censes. The instantial use of the metonymic PU turns into a metonymic experience of "understanding is seeing". The visual implications of the pun help to shift frorn figurative meaning to direct meaning and back again.

The new visualization becomes part of the mental world (14). This is an interesting case, as the pun is based on metonymy. Usually metaphorical PUS are punned upon. The sustained use of pun facilitates the presentation of a visualised narrative. The pun is further extended, based on the polysemy of the word roof. "The roof of the skull" is a metaphorical meaning, while "the elegant dome of his skull" is an ironic periphrasis and a synonym for "the roof' as the top of one's head.


The above example shows how the reiteration of the constituent "roof' functions, providing Cohesion (15). Reiteration reinforces the meaning and the cohesive role of the PU. Stylistically it is manifest in a number of ways. One wonders what the roof has done amiss (metonymic personification), and after all it is not his roof as he only rents the house (extended metonymic pun). When the phrase "My roof' is reiterated, "My" is given in italics to lend emphasis. Italics function not only as what is called an attention-controlling device. The emphasis, indicated typographically by the use of italics, is "part of the phonological effect" of the text (McRae, [1897] 1990: 17). It is a way of expressing intonation and emotions, as language reflects emotional thinking. For the reader it is important to retain the associative links between the reiterations.

Thus, the text offers an intricate semantic and stylistic network, which reflects associative thinking--metonymy, pun, personification, reiteration of the image, acquiring new associations and ties in discourse. "Authors combine tropes and narratives in subtle ways, often shifting between tropes as they shift points of view" (Gibbs, [1994] 1999: 452). The combination and interaction of two or several tropes give rice to new instantiations of PUS in discourse.

In D.H.Lawrence the first page of the short story ends with a cluster of three PUS in close proximity, entwining metaphorical, metonymic and literal meanings, and showing that much of the cognitive development is based on emotions and motivation:

under one's roof

walls have ears

what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander

The point, however, is that Rawdon said so emphatically--no, not emphatically, succinctly: 'No woman shall ever again sleep under my roof.' It was a case of futurity. No doubt the had had his ceilings whitewashed and their memories put out or rather repainted, for it was a handsome wooden ceiling. Anyhow, if ceilings have eyes, as walls have ears, then Rawdon had given his ceilings a new outlook, with a new coat of paint, and all memory of any woman's having slept under them--for after all, in decent circumstances we sleep under ceilings, not under roofs--was wiped out forever.

'And will you neither sleep under any woman's roof?'

That pulled him up rather short. He was not prepared to sauce his gander as he had sauced his goose. (pp. 69-70)

PUS are alive, they find new ways of expression in discourse. This piece of figuratively saturated text contains quite a number of stylistic patterns and tropes, however, "the individual tropes do not work independently, but are functionally related to each other to provide figurative coherence to a text" (Gibbs [1994] 1999: 454).

The sustained phraseological image is a natural reflection of a way a thought tends to develop: the figurative meaning of the PU persists, then it gives rise to a literal interpretation, which is followed by a return to the figurative level. This stretch of text reveals "the intricate interaction between metaphor and metonyrny" (Barcelona, 1998: 47). A metonymic PU turns into an extended metaphor, sustained by a pun. The parallel construction "ceilings have eyes" is cataphorically pointing forward to walls have ears, providing a cohesive tie (16). "Ceilings have eyes" is an instantial metaphor, based on contiguous associations. Further the subtle irony of the comment brings out the literal meaning again by way of a pun: "... in decent circumstances we sleep under ceilings, not under roofs", and with the repainted ceilings the memory of a woman having slept under them is metaphorically wiped out for ever. This perception considerably extends "our field of vision" (Lakoff & Johnson, [1980] 2003: 30). The shift from metaphor to pun ("a repainted, handsome wooden ceiling") creates a vivid visual representation--extended pun in a saturated stretch of text.

The proverb what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander has acquired an instantial form: "was not prepared to sauce his gander as he had sauced his goose". This is not only a case of allusion, but also a case of instantial conversion, which is extremely rare in the use of English PUS". There is another rare pattern, that of metathesis, which involves a swap of notional constituents, changing the regular sequence of the base form. In this context instantial use is highlighted and carried to considerable lengths, including instantial conversion, which is infrequent and hence striking in the discoursal use of phraseology. The techniques of metonymy, metaphor, punning and reiteration create a web of figurative and literal meanings, providing cohesion and coherence in discourse.

This is a case of phraseological saturation (Naciscione, 2001: 142-152), which is one of the ways how PUS function in the web of discourse, creating instantial chains, fusing and intermingling both base and instantial features. The PUS and their instantial constituents pervade the text resulting in a subtle network of phraseological ties. The particular instantiation is outside the experience of the language user, as it has not been encountered before. It becomes a focal point where three phraseological images meet and a number of instantial changes are effected, thus attracting attention and increasing emotional suspense. The phraseologically saturated stretch of text demonstrates how a common PU can develop a high degree of discoursal flexibility.

Phraseological saturation implies a dense phraseological presence in the web of discourse. The striking result of saturation is not only due to a high stylistic density, but also the emotional impact it creates, by intertwining a number of figurative strands. It reflects the author's intuitive feeling for the "emotional density" of a particular moment (Spiegel, 1976: 44). Phraseological saturation is polyphonic by its very nature. Saturated stretches reveal how PUS may be realised in interaction and several phraseological voices may be developed in parallel.

A novel metonymic link serves to advance the metonymic perception of the roof:

under one's roof

'Ah! Well! That's not quite the same thing, you know. When one leaves one's own house one gives up the keys of circumstance, so to speak. But, as far as possible, I make it a rule not to sleep under a roof that is openly, and obviously, and obtrusively a woman's roof.

'Quite!' said I with a shudder. 'So do I!'

Now I understood his mysterious love affair less than ever. (p. 70)

The first page and a half of the short story is phraseologically saturated. However, it is followed by two and a half page of a descriptive narrative, which is almost devoid of PUS, save for two PUS in core use. There is a good explanation for that. PUS are common at focal points in the narrative. In D.H. Lawrence's writing instantial use is not normally

found in descriptive narratives, but at key emotional moments (18), in emotional situations, which portray interpersonal relationships, when emotions run high. Suspense frequently lies at the basis of a development towards a new stage, and new forms and meanings are produced in discourse, when language is used in an unconventional way to create a newly altered mental image.


The phraseological image becomes sustainable, as the cohesive stylistic links persist, developing the image and acquiring new associations and ties in discourse. Unlike Halliday and Hassan (1976), who see cohesion as a lexical and semantic relation, I believe that cohesion is also a stylistic relation. I would argue that stylistic features have a role of their own in securing cohesion and coherence. Thus, a sustained phraseological image provides for the semantic and stylistic cohesion of the text.

Cohesion is provided by further reiteration of the PU. We read on that Rawdon keeps paying a daily visit or even a twice daily visit to a lonely and very attractive woman, and he goes on insisting, "I've taken a vow that no women shall sleep under my roof again!" (p. 72). The PU under one's roof is reiterated as the story develops, enhancing the emotional tension and creating a mounting feeling of affective suspense (9). Thus phraseological reiteration is a form of cohesion (Naciscione, 2001: 112-121). It is also a tool to sustain an image: the reiteration brings out Rawdon's obsession with his determination that no woman shall ever sleep under his roof. His compelling emotions are conveyed by semantic and stylistic reiteration of the phraseological image, reasserting the thought, as it were, to himself. Indeed, it remains at the back of his mind all the time and it keeps emerging at stressful moments. Lawrence is a good psychologist and a master of portraying human emotions.

So far the PU under one's roof has been used in dialogue--in Rawdon's speech. However, as the story progresses, it also appears in the author's narrative, adding incremental value: " If he meant he wouldn't have his wife sleep under his roof again, that one could understand. They were really very witty with one another, he and she, but fatally and damnably married" (p. 73).

The development of the phraseological image lends continuity and a narrative perspective. The use of the PU gains a cumulative effect, affording a psychological insight into the emotional tension of the main character, and covering the whole of the short story. The narrative turns into "an overt manifestation of the mind in action" (Chafe, 1990: 79). The PU pervades the text, as the image roof is reiterated, and different stylistic patterns are used:

under one's roof not for love or money

Poor Janet! But he wouldn't have her sleep under his roof, no, not for any money. And apparently he never slept under hers--if she could be said to have one. So what the deuce? (p. 73)

"Not for any money" is an elliptical form of the PU not for love or money, meaning "not for anything, not for any price". "Not for love" is conspicuously missing. The pattern of ellipsis is combined with replacement (20) followed by a metaphoric extension of a metonymic PU. It is another instance where PUS and tropes cohesively interact in discourse.

The mystery of the manifestations of human emotions is accentuated by the reiteration of the words mysterious, mystery and mystification (pp. 70-73). We understand "his mysterious love affair even less than ever" (p. 70). The same refers to Rawdon who has wrapped himself up in "a certain amount of mystification" (p. 72). And, of course, the pure mystification of not having a woman sleep under his roof, which is reiterated in the next paragraph:

under one's roof to let the cat out of the bag

Of course, if they were friends, just friends, all right! But then in that case, why start talking about not having a woman sleep under your roof? Pure mystificatjon.

The cat never came out of the bag. But one evening I distinctly heard it mewing inside its sack, and I even believe I saw a claw through the canvas. (p. 73)

Thus, the mystery was never disclosed, but some information came out. The extended metaphor creates a number of instantial associations and sub-images: meowing, sack, claw, canvas, which retain a metonymic link with the base metaphor. Incidentally, the claw turns out to be a woman's foot (p. 79). This is a revelation, especially after the firm assertion that "no woman shall ever sleep under my roof again--not even a female cat!" (p. 69). Instantial use is dynamic, it expands the semantic and/or syntactic limits of the base form, going beyond the confines of core use. Hence it acquires a broader dimension in the web of discourse. I follow Chafe in believing that language should not be viewed as static. Language in action is better captured with the metaphor of a flowing stream, in which a stream of thoughts enjoys a priority (Chafe, [2001] 2004: 673).

The next paragraph carries a mention of the leading motif of the story in an indirect way. Over dinner they speak "on his favourite topic: not, of course, women, and why they shouldn't sleep under his roof, but fourteenth-century melody and windbag accompaniment" (p. 73). The PU is reiterated in its core use as part of a cumulative development. The statement is followed by two pages with no instantial use of PUS and only two PUS in their core use. This piece of text narrates the further developments. Rawdon's servant Hawken appears and announces a visitor with an intensely blank and bewildered look on his face, "A lady, sir!" Janet has come to visit Rawdon, looking tragically upset. Finally Rawdon decides to call his servant:

under one's roof

He (...) rang the bell. (...) Then there was a tension of waiting, an interruption in the previous tension. He waited. Nobody came. Rawdon rang again.

'That's very curious!' he murmured to himself. Hawken was usually so prompt. Hawken, not being a woman, slept under the roof, so there was no excuse for his not answering the bell. The tension in the room had now changed quality, owing to this new suspense. (P. 75)

The word "tension" has been repeated 11 times over a brief stretch of text, while "suspense" appears twice, acting like cues and prompts. The reiteration of the thought of tension and suspense is backed by the short sentences. It is Janet who has come to ask Rawdon to stay under his roof in an emotional crisis. Rawdon is desperately trying to extricate himself from the situation:

under one's roof

'You couldn't stay and protect me yourself?' she said quietly.

'I! I! Why, I've made a vow--haven't I, Joe?'--he turned to me--'not to have any women sleep under my roof again.'--He got the mixed sour smile on his face.

She looked up at the ceiling for a moment, then lapsed into silence. Then she said:

'Sort of monastery, so to speak!' (p. 77)

The pun evokes a change from the abstraction of phraseological meaning to the literal meaning of its constituents, appealing to the sense of sight. The instantial metonymy "gives realistic detail" (Pankhurst, 1997: 124) to the metonymic base form. The reiteration of a PU, if emotionally charged, is a way of creating suspense, especially in instantial use. In the text new figurative shifts have emerged--puns and extended metaphors, subtly interwoven with full and partial reiteration of the whole PU or the image-bearing constituent roof: In this way the PU becomes the key image of the short story, and the development of the image turns into what I would call an extended metonymy, drawing on the sense of sight and enhancing emotional suspense. The text presents a generously sustained image: the stable boundaries of the base form of the PU have been extended and the image covers the whole stretch of the short story.

Afier roof has been absent for two and a half pages, it appears again at the end of the short story as an innuendo:

under one's roof

That day, Rawdon left for London, on his way to Tunis, and Hawken was to follow him. The roof of his house looked just the same.(p.80)

Both figurative and literal meanings are instantiated at the same time. The roof has not changed, nor has Rawdon's attitude. A sustained visualisation has been secured in one's mind's eye. A parallel vision has been maintained: the abstract metonymic thought of roof as one's home and the literal meaning of a roof: The two domains have been linked metonymically. Hence the role of phraseological image in the construction of meaning.


The analysis of instantial use establishes a clear picture of the involvement of phraseology in the interrelated web of discourse and reveals the way instantial use creates coherent relationships between various parts of the text. This case study illustrates one of the types of interaction between metonymy and metaphor: an instantial metaphorical and metonymic development of a PU, which is metonymic in its base form. The sustained use of a combination of metonymy and metaphor gives rise to new instantiations in discourse. The phraseological image has been sustained across the whole short story, acquiring a sense of constancy. In a way it is also a means of stretching the imagination and the boundaries of the phraseological image: the use of this PU coincides with the boundaries of the short story. Moreover, the same phraseological image also appears in the title of the short story, providing an overtone and spanning its boundaries:

Rawdon's Roof

This is umbrella use (2'), which is a special position in the text. The title has a sustainable cohesive function. The phraseological image lends wholeness to the short story, it is a kind of a frame, functioning as a single meaningful entity. At the same time it is like an undercurrent that helps to determine its overall stylistic quality and bring out the message. Sustainability is made possible due to the semantic and stylistic cohesion, which proceeds from the base form and is developed throughout the story. The whole text becomes the context of the instantiation, and the sustained use of the PU turns into a narrative technique by force of constant reference to it. The understanding of the sustained phraseological image becomes cognitively salient.


My conclusion is that phraseological image is a way to sustain a narrative. It functions as an integral strand in the web of emotional tensions, becoming an essential aspect of text. It aids the exploration of psychological depths and secures the flow of figurative sequences, creating feeling of suspense. Sustainability of a PU is the spread of its image over a length of text in sequential segments as part of the interrelated web of discourse. Sustained figurative use calls for additional identification efforts and enhanced cognitive skills of perception, comprehension and interpretation to follow an instantial development and understand sustained figurative language. In order to cope with the task, learners need what could be called sustained working memory not to lose the figurative thread. Sustained use also affords an insight into an interesting aspect of the figurative mode of human cognition: the ability to infer gradually, to understand increasingly more in tune with the development of thought in an on-going figurative environment. A PU is capable of delivering a greater degree of sustainability than a word by virtue of the inherent cohesion of the base form of the PU and its figurative meaning.

The discoursal use of under one's roof shows that it is not only phraseological metaphor that can be sustained in discourse, as it is commonly assumed, but also other stylistic techniques, which the base form of the PU is built on, as it is in this case--metonymy. This encourages the exploration of the role of other tropes in securing a sustained image in discourse, and forming a figurative chain that cuts across modalities of experience. The sustained use of the image under one's roof is a striking feature of D.H. Lawrence's creative endeavour. It helps to convey the psychological message of the text--the thoughts and emotions of the main character, and the workings of his mind. Sustainability reveals a process of emotions and experience, a continuous interaction of metonymic and metaphorical reasoning. However, at the same time it serves the author as a narrative structure, a genuine continuity, sustaining the message.

Sustainability of phraseological image definitely merits further investigation. Fragmented contexts by which PUS are frequently illustrated are insufficient to establish the whole network of semantic and stylistic interrelationships over extended stretches of text. The same is true in respect of examples taken from a Corpus, which gives only some of the preceding and the subsequent text. It is essential to recognise sustainability as one of the basic tenets of the stylistic PUS in discourse and discontinue using a sentence-bound approach, which is good enough only to illustrate core use or simple patterns, such as insertion or replacement. Sustained use of phraseological image reflects extended figurative thought which knows no sentence boundaries.


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(1) In my understanding of the basic terms in phraseology I follow Naciscione (2001).

(2) The term "sustainability" was introduced by Naciscione (1996). See also Naciscione (2001).

(3) The phraseological unit is a stable, cohesive combination o f words with a fully or partially figurative meaning.

(4) The base form is the dictionary form and meaning stored in the long-term memory of the language user.

(5)Core use is the use of a PU in its most common form and meaning without any additional stylistic features.

(6) Instantial stylistic use is a stylistic realisation in discourse. it is a particular instance of a unique stylistic application of a PU, resulting in significant changes in its form and meaning determined by the context.

(7) The advantages of the cognitive methodology when analysing the creative changes of PUS have been pointed out by Mena Martinez (2003); Ryzhkina (2003).

(8) I have indicated the forms of PUS for emphasis: base forms are marked bold and underlined; instantial elements are spaced and underlined; replaced elements are underlined double and spaced; cues are marked with a dotted line.

(9) For the importance of distinguishing between metaphor and metonymy, see Gibbs, 1999: 36-37.

(10) For metaphor and metonymy as a source of false friends, see Chamizo Dominguez and Nerlich (2002).

(11) For the workings o f metonymic conceptualisation: see Gibbs' "The Poetics o f Mind". which contains an interesting chapter on lexical metonymy: Gibbs ([1994] 1999: 3 13-358).

(12) For the complex interaction o f visual elements and verbal English, see Goodman (1996).

(13) For a cognitive-linguistic view of the link between understanding and the senses of sight and smell, see Popova (2003).

(14) According to Spiegel, the traditional visualization in literature starts only in the fiction of the 19th century when the "visual perspective moves to the centre of a coherent and fully articulated literary form" (Spiegel. 1976: 33).

(15) For cohesion in phraseology see Naciscione (2002).

(16) For the cataphoric function in cohesion see Halliday and Hasan (1976).

(17) Although instantial conversion is rare in English PUS, it is not a new phenomenon, as it has already been used by Chaucer (Naciscione 1976: 122-126).

(18) For instante, D.Il. Lawrence's novel Mr. Nooti reveals a striking difference in the distribution of PUS and instantial use: there are long stretches of descriptive narratives, which are void of any PUS, both core use and instantial use, while emotionally tense pieces of narrative contain a lot of sustained instantial use and emotive clusters of phraseologically saturated text. The same regularity also emerges in other novels by D.H. Lawrence, e.g. The Lost Girl.

(19) For affective use of PUS see Greciano (1988).

(20) Replacement is an instantial pattern involving the substitution of a base constituent by one or several instantial constituents. For replacement in phraseology see Sabban (1998: 165-192).

(21) In umbrella use PUS appear in titles and headlines performing a sustainable cohesive text-embracing function, referring to and covering the whole of the text (Naciscione. 2001). For umbrella use of proverbs in song titles, see Bryan (2001: 16-56) and in titles of dramas. see Bryan (2002: 65-74).

Anita Naciscione *

Latvian Academy of Culture

* Address for correspondence: Anita Naciscione, 25 Skolas Street, Flat 13,Riga LV-1010, Latvia, Tel.: +371 9416539, E-niail: naciscionek2parkslv
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Author:Naciscione, Anita
Publication:International Journal of English Studies
Article Type:Report
Date:Jan 1, 2006
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