Cognitive mechanisms reflect the work of human consciousness and give an idea of the ways of analysis, structuring and conceptualization of specific objects and abstract entities. Particular attention is paid to the study of the metaphor by cognitivists, believing that it occupies a central place in the cognitive model of speech.
Idioms usually contain two layers of meaning. One is called the literal meaning; the other is called the extended meaning. Literal meaning can be directly obtained from the literal meaning of constituent parts of the idioms, while extended meaning is generalized and abstracted on the basis of literal meaning.
According to Kövecses (2000) and Chen & Lai (2013) in cognitive linguistic view majority of idiomatic expressions are based on conceptual metaphors and metonymies, which means that they are “conceptually motivated” by metaphors and metonymies. Cognitive linguistics views both metaphor and metonymy as helping mechanisms to structure the human conceptual system.
The human conceptual system is largely metaphorical and controls systematic metaphorical mappings between abstract and concrete conceptual domains. Abstract structures are meaningful only indirectly, and can be understood due to their systematic relationship to directly meaningful structures. Conceptual metaphors and metonymies that help import structure to certain abstract domains of our experience, are motivated by, and grounded in, our bodily experience. This grounding provides the experiential basis of metaphor and metonymy. Idioms, which make use of parts of the human body, are more predictable than other idioms, simply because as human beings, we are completely familiar with our perceptions of the shape, size, and functions of individual parts of our own bodies, and we experience them every day. This is why it is easier for us to interpret the meaning of idiomatic expressions containing parts of the human body than, for example, idioms which contain names of animals (e.g. to call off the dogs).
In his discussion on idioms, Kövecses (2010) claims that “idioms are products of our conceptual system and not simply a matter of language … hence the meanings of idioms can be seen as motivated and not arbitrary” (p. 233). According to him, it is no accident that idioms look the way they do; they have been motivated by conceptual mechanisms when they were coined. Kövecses (2010) goes on to list the three most common conceptual mechanisms behind idioms: “The kinds of mechanisms that seem to be especially relevant in the case of many idioms are metaphor, metonymy, and conventional knowledge” (p. 233). These three aspects of our conceptual system seem to play a vital role in the formation of idioms, and it is important to understand what is understood by these terms.
For instance, idioms can be approached in a cognitive linguistic way, which suggests that some idioms have analysable characteristics and the meanings can in fact be derived from the components (Kövecses 2000; Cieslicka 2006; Boers, Frank and Lindstromberg 2008). Moreover, the cognitive linguistic approach is often thought of as one of the most useful methods in teaching idioms since the aim is to teach how to use the idioms and not only to learn them by heart (Langlotz 2006; Chen and Lai 2013; Dacygier and Sweetser 2014).
?ognitive linguistics divides metaphors into two: conceptual metaphors and image metaphors (Lakoff 1987: 219-222; Sanchez et al 2012: 35). Image metaphors are conceptually simpler and are based on resemblance between two entities, whereas conceptual metaphors involve the mapping of rich knowledge and inferential structure which gives rise to a larger number of linguistic expressions (Lakoff 1987: 219-222; Sanchez et al 2012: 35). Besides, the cognitive semantic view can facilitate the learning and understanding of idioms for non-native speakers.
SYSTEM OF IDIOMS
Cognitive Linguistics has managed to successfully create a system in idioms. Cognitive linguists (Kövecses 2000, Lakoff 1986) have grouped idioms and created a system based on their common concepts. As an example, expressions such as spark off and fan the flame have one common concept: fire. The idioms can be considered as motivated conceptually by general knowledge of the world, which entails a systematic structure that characterises a corresponding coherent system of the idiomatic structure (Lakoff & Johnson 1999). Chen and Lai (2013: 15) have brought an example of fire-related idioms used to describe the emotion anger, by using FIRE as the source domain and ANGER as a target domain and the connection made between the two ANGER IS FIRE. This means that idioms can in fact be considered as motivated rather than arbitrary. Moreover, the connection between the concepts is called conceptual metaphor (Lakoff 1986: 381-340) and it illustrates the connection between fire and anger. Conceptual metaphors are usually represented in capital letters (Deignan, Gabrys & Solska 1997: 352). According to Chen and Lai (2013: 15) EFL students can develop an understanding of the meaning of idioms through the awareness and knowledge of the conceptual metaphors behind them. However, according to Gibbs (2007: 2-4) conceptual metaphors are not fixed, but rather created by the linguists following their intuition. In other words, cognitive linguists follow their intuition to uncover language-mind links, image schemas and conceptual metaphors. Image schema is considered to be an abstract conceptual representation of the embodied experience of the everyday interaction and the observation of the world around us (Evans 2007:106). Gibbs (2007) questions cognitive linguists’ intuition-based approach because it focuses too heavily on introspection about matters of linguistic structure and behaviour, but agrees that intuition is a 13 necessary source for constructing hypotheses and suggests caution in creating conceptual metaphors, experiments etc. Stöver (2011: 81-82) states that in order to have metaphoric understanding and not experience tension between the literal and non-literal while encountering a metaphor, learners should be made aware of metaphoricity (Moon 2009) and what it contains. In other words, using conceptual metaphors while teaching figurative language is not useful if the learners have not been familiarised with the concept and how it can be used.