Mid hefigum byrpenum: A study of the burden metaphor in Old English

Penelope Scott*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book or Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Conceptual Metaphor Theory lays a strong emphasis on embodiment; Lakoff and Johnson (1980: 257) for example maintain that "many primary metaphors are universal because everybody has basically the same kinds of bodies and brains". It might be expected therefore that metaphors grounded in sensorymotor experience will take similar forms cross-culturally. However, the status of weight as a source domain in Old English shows that although the conceptual metaphor difficulties are burdens might be grounded in sensory-motor experience, the various weight-related metaphors arising in the domains of discipline, religion, labour, and health cannot be explained without accounting for the cultural conceptualizations upon which they rest (Sharifian 2011; Yu 2009). This study therefore affirms the role of socio-cultural influence on metaphorical conceptualization. The study is based primarily on a semasiological analysis of hefig 'heavy', with data taken from the Dictionary of Old English Web Corpus (Healey et al. 2009), and the Dictionary of Old English (Cameron et al. 2016). This paper situates the Old English burden metaphor within a network of cultural metaphors and culturally-specific proposition-schemas (Quinn 1987), shining light both on the nature of conceptual metaphor, and on Anglo-Saxon world-views.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCognitive Linguistic Studies in Cultural Contexts
PublisherJohn Benjamins Publishing Company
Number of pages23
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Publication series

NameCognitive Linguistic Studies in Cultural Contexts
ISSN (Print)1879-8047


  • cultural schema
  • metaphor
  • Old English
  • weight


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