Old age in the mirror of metaphors

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The paper gives an analysis of the metaphors of old age that are well-established in German culture. The aim of the study is an empirical analysis of how old age is represented in the German language, reflecting the attitudes of society to old age.
The material for the study was a selection of aphoristic and proverbal text fragments that include the lexeme Alter (hohes Alter).
The methodological basis of the study is the cognitive theory of metaphor of G. Lakoff and M. Johnson, who argue that metaphors are not limited to the sphere of language and that the processes of human thinking themselves are metaphorical.
The study also relies on metaphorical modeling, a theory which makes it possible to identify a system of metaphorical models in the discourse of old age, reflecting the attitude of members of society towards this discourse and its participants, forming a linguistic picture of the world.
The analysis identified several metaphorical models; the most popular is the time cycle model (daily cycle, annual cycle), which represent old age as the evening or autumn of life – the time to prepare for the end of the cycle: winter/night is the time of death, when all life in nature freezes, “falls asleep”.
Old age is personified as an evil tyrant, robbing an elderly person of external beauty, energy, sometimes even clarity of thoughts.
The natural metaphorical model proclaims the physical and mental functionality and attractiveness of old age: an old person is compared with natural phenomena (gray hair – foam after a big storm at sea).
The architectural model represents old age as a building (a prison with the semantics of involuntary alienation from life, limiting the possibilities of movement and communication) or as its element (a balcony, which makes it possible to see wide surroundings and to evaluate what is happening).
The semantics of metaphors include an emotional assessment of old age. The high degree of influence of the considered metaphors on the opinions and beliefs of society necessitate further study of the metaphors themselves and the discourses of their functioning.
Translated title of the contributionСтарость в зеркале метафор
Original languageEnglish
Subtitle of host publicationPROCEEDINGS of the 12th All-Russian Research and Methodological Conference with International Participation
EditorsEnrique F. Quero Gervilla, Natalya Sokolova
Place of PublicationMoscow
PublisherРоссийский университет дружбы народов
Number of pages8
StatePublished - 2020
EventCurrent Issues in Modern Linguistics and the Humanities: The 12th All-Russian Research and Methodological Conference with International Participation: - РУДН, Москва, Russian Federation
Duration: 27 Mar 202027 Mar 2020
Conference number: 12


ConferenceCurrent Issues in Modern Linguistics and the Humanities
Country/TerritoryRussian Federation
Internet address


  • metaphor
  • metaphorical model
  • discourse of old age
  • cultural values


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