Research article
Issue: № 4 (35), 2015

Иванова Р.П.

Кандидат филологических наук,

Политехнический институт (филиал) ФГАОУ ВПО «Северо-восточный федеральный университет им. М.К. Аммосова» в г. Мирном



В статье моделируются метафорические способы репрезентации концепта ОГОНЬ на материале английского языка. Методологической основой исследования послужила теория концептуальной метафоры, разработанная Дж. Лакоффом и М. Джонсоном. Анализ лексикографических источников английского языка, а также Британского национального корпуса показал, что концепт ОГОНЬ обладает общими универсальными, а также национально-специфическими способами выражения. В английской языковой картине мира огонь олицетворяется в виде человека, который потребляет (fire consumes), разрушает (destroyed by the fire), убивает (killed by fire), танцует (dancing fire). Христианская вера англичан проявилась в метафорической модели FIRE IS HELL, которая является известной аллюзией  к Библии. Полученные данные могут быть использованы в качестве дополнительного материала для исследований в области когнитивной лингвистики и культурологии.

Ключевые слова: концепт, огонь, когнитивная лингвистика, теория метафоры, английский язык.

Ivanova R.P.

Candidate of Science in Philology,

Mirny Polytechnic Institute (branch) of Ammosov North-Eastern Federal University



The article deals with the study of concept FIRE in the English language. Basing on the theory of conceptual metaphor the authors singled out metaphoric models of representation of concept FIRE. The metaphoric models found in the English language are connected with materialistic conception of fire in the models FIRE IS A MATERIAL OBJECT. The examples of personification in English convey humanlike characteristics of fire which is able to consume, dance, sweep, kill, die, etc. The Christian religion of the English reveals itself in the metaphoric model FIRE IS HELL which is a well-known allusion to the Bible. The identified models might be valuable for cross-cultural studies and cognitive linguistics.

Keywords: concept, fire, cognitive linguistics, conceptual metaphor, English language.

The study of concepts of different languages has been a topical problem of linguistics for the last decade. The concept under discussion is one of the key concepts of any culture. The analysis of the representation of the concept of fire in the English language will reveal metaphoric models of its representation.

Many linguists hold the view that our cognition is metaphoric (Lakoff, 2003; Fauconnier, 1985; Grady, 1999 and many others). Analyzing metaphoric models we dwell upon the postulates of the theory of conceptual metaphor worked out by G. Lakoff and M. Johnson. According to them the human conceptual system is metaphorically structured and defined. In their work metaphor stands for metaphorical concept (Lakoff, 2003: 7). As the authors write, the most fundamental values in a culture are coherent with the metaphorical structure of the most fundamental concepts (Lakoff, 2003: 23). The study of the concept FIRE as we believe will let us view one of the basic values of the English culture.

Building metaphoric models of the representation of the concept FIRE we relied on the postulate of the theory of the cognitive metaphor which says that understanding our experiences in terms of objects and substances allows us to pick out parts of our experience and treat them as discrete entities or substances which the basis for ontological metaphors (Lakoff, 2003: 26).

In opinion of the founders of the theory the most obvious ontological metaphors are those where the physical object is further specified as being a person. This allows us to comprehend a wide variety of experiences with nonhuman entities in terms of human motivations, characteristics, and activities (Lakoff, 2003: 33).

The authors also observe metonymy which, as they state, serves the same purposes that metaphor does, and in somewhat the same way, but it allows us to focus more specifically on certain aspects of what is being referred to (Lakoff, 2003: 238). Like metaphors, metonymic concepts structure not just our language but our thoughts, attitudes, and actions. When dealing with the concept FIRE we have also singled out metonymic models where human characteristics stand for the man in general, actualizing metonymic model PART FOR THE WHOLE. As the authors note, the conceptual systems of cultures and religions are metaphorical in nature. Symbolic metonymies that are grounded in our physical experience provide an essential means of comprehending religious and cultural concepts (Lakoff, 2003: 41).

Let us make generalizing remarks on the main postulates of the theory of conceptual metaphor. Metaphors are fundamentally conceptual in nature, metaphorical language is secondary. Conceptual metaphors are grounded in everyday experience. Abstract thought is largely, though not entirely, metaphorical. Metaphorical thought is unavoidable and mostly unconscious. Abstract concepts have a literal core but are extended by metaphors. Abstract concepts are not complete without metaphors. The founders of the theory conclude: “We live our lives on the basis of inferences we derive via metaphor” (Lakoff, 2003: 273).

The analysis of English lexicographical resources conveys that fire in the English language is represented as flames, shoot and emotion (CALDT), uncontrolled flames, light, and heat that destroy and damage things (LDCE), the state of combustion in which inflammable material burns, producing heat, flames, and often smoke (CED).

Let us dwell on the metaphoric models connected with the concept of fire in the English language.

As the analysis of the linguistic material displays, the majority of models are anthropomorphic, where fire has all the characteristics of a human being.

The central model accordingly is FIRE IS A HUMAN BEING.

The following examples decipher humanlike features of the fire, as it is able to dance, consume, escape, and kill:

The Fire Ghost simply bursts into flames, its spectral body surrounded with a huge halo of dancing fire (BNC).

He longed for thick felt against those dancing panes of fire (BNC).

In 1541 a fire consumed most of the town and much of the castle (BNC).

This was by far the most pleasant room in the school for it backed onto St. Martin's Church and in the far left hand corner was a door, normally open during the summer, leading to the fire escape (BNC).

More than 200 people, mostly women, were killed by a fire in a Thai toy factory, the worst industrial fire in history (BNC).

Black smoke gushed out of open doors and through windows and roofs only to be suddenly consumed by tongues of fire that licked heavenwards, raising up their flaming fangs like the arms of satanic dancers placating some obscene god (BNC).

In the above example the personification is obvious as fire is thought not only as able to consume but also to have a tongue as a human being. Moreover in the last two sentences the instrumental preposition by indicates the fire as an active doer of an action also actualizing personification.

In the following example fire as a human being is able to sweep metaphorically:

A young girl has been made homeless after fire swept through her bedsit home in Eldon Street, Darlington (BNC).

Another model containing personification is FIRE IS A LIVING BEING where one can observe the conceptualization of fire as an animal or a human being who is able to rage, roar and die as all living beings:

A massive forest fire is still raging in western Java (LDCE).

Then the fire died down and Isambard's more timorous followers came hurtling after him, and by sheer weight swept their opponents before them down the hillside (BNC).

Mr Trotter sat by the roaring fire LDCE).

The upper model can be considered both anthropomorphic and zoomorphic.

One can also highlight metonymic models where fire functions as qualities of a human being.

The most general model here is FIRE IS EMOTION:

Fire means strong emotion (CALDT):

The fire in her speech inspired everyone (CALDT).

a very strong emotion that makes you want to think about nothing else (LDCE).

the fire of religious fanaticism (LDCE)

fervent or passionate emotion or enthusiasm (OALD):

Tony's fire and enthusiasm has always been a delight, but desire gets you nowhere by itself (OALD).

It was a great team effort with the lads playing with fire, passion, determination and a tremendous will to win (OALD).

It was played with passion and fire, by a massive orchestra (OALD).

In the examples above the noun fire combining with the abstract nouns enthusiasm, passion, determination, will as their synonym lets us speak of the meaning of passionate emotion and enthusiasm.

If combined with personal locatives (in her, in his eyes, in his belly) fire represents such emotions like passion and desire:

Day after day, she did what was expected of her and there was so little fire left in her that, when Mr Landor emptied a jug of red wine over a white damask tablecloth and kicked in her direction a cushion which split and sent feathers flying everywhere, she said not a word (BNC).

Ali returned to boxing with a new fire in his belly (LDCE).

He is like a prizefighter determined to show that there is still some fire in his belly (OALD).

The minister, who had red hair and fire in his eye, started on an upbeat note (BNC).

The emotional model can also be specified in the meaning ‘be extremely angry’ in the idiom ‘breathe fire’ (OALD):

As a strong police posse stood around watching, district fan club members gathered, forming an angry group and breathing fire at the critical references to their hero (OALD).

The new health minister entered the ring with the group breathing fire, promising a knock-down, drag-out struggle to the death, vowing there would be no retreat (OALD).

In the example below we see personification and a mythical interpretation of fire:

 It then argues that this very desire for God is God immanent in man's being and shows how it may, in his particular case, come to inform all sides of his life which are reconciled as they are turned into fuel to feed the fire of love – itself lit in his desire for God (BNC).

Another metonymic model is FIRE IS PAIN SENSATION the actualization of which we can observe in the following examples of comparison:

The minute her hand made contact with the metal a very sharp pain that felt like fire ran up her entire arm (OALD).

Brad's eyes bugged out and he clutched his face as pain like fire ripped through his head (OALD).

Some contexts demonstrate the model FIRE IS A PLEASANT SENSATION:

She cried aloud in joyous elation, her body still on fire, holding on to the magical moment as long as she could (BNC).

The context analysis shows that the person experienced a pleasant sensation as the preceding context (She cried aloud in joyous elation) bearing positive meaning, and also the following (magical moment) point out the meaning of fire as of a pleasant physical sensation.

The combination of the word ‘fire’ with the verb expressing feeling and emotions (feel) brings to the development of the new meaning of pleasant sensation in the following example:

She felt on fire, and thoughts tumbled pell-mell in her head–Jenny, and his effrontery (BNC).

The conceptualization of fire is not limited merely to anthropomorphic and zoomorphic models. The language material testifies the existence of the metaphoric model FIRE IS AN ABSTRACT NOTION which has the following variations:


One can notice negative interpretation of the concept fire in the English language, where it is perceived as something dangerous, able to cause damage and destroy something:

Flames, light, and heat that destroy and damage things (LDCE):

The library was badly damaged in the fire (CED).

The warehouse was completely destroyed by fire (LDCE).

In the entry below we see the actualization of the model FIRE IS DIFFICULTY:

go through fire (and water) (for somebody), old-fashioned to do something very difficult and dangerous for someone (LDCE). Let us illustrate the entry by the examples:

I would have gone through fire for Peter Docherty (BNC).

In the above context the person would stand all difficulties for the sake of her sweetheart (Peter Docherty).

In the example below the combination of the noun ‘fire’ with the verb ‘to endure’ develops the meaning of difficulty:

I would endure fire and flood and the agonies of the world (BNC).


In this metaphoric model one can observe fire as something very powerful which should be put out and fought with:

It took firefighters several hours to put out the fire (LDCE).

We have also taken the opportunity in the Bill to provide for water to be supplied free of charge for fire training purposes and for other emergency purposes as well as fire fighting (BNC).

The combination of the noun ‘fire’ with the verb ‘to break out’ which is a usual context for war, allows us to speak of the model FIRE IS WAR:

Residents were evacuated when fire broke out in a block of flats yesterday (LDCE).

In the idiom ‘fire and brimstone’ the word ‘fire’ has a religious meaning of hell, displaying the model FIRE IS HELL:

 Viki looked at the two sympathetically, these two have been through hell fire and brimstone to be with each other (OALD).

It was on the subject he had been assigned by his apparently normal suburban Catholic school: Hell, and all its fire and brimstone (BNC).

They had hymns, a sermon with fire and brimstone, and all the usual traditional elements (OALD).

Besides the above mentioned anthropomorphcic, zoomorphic and abstract models one can single out artifact models of representation of the concept of fire in the English language.

The metaphoric model FIRE IS A MATERIAL OBJECT can be illustrated by the following examples:

One of the plane's engines had caught fire (LDCE).

Those who play with fire, however archly, must expect to get their fingers burnt once in a while (BNC).

Fire being something material can be caught, played with.

In some metaphoric models fire can be regarded as a MOVING OBJECT as it is combines with the verb of movement ‘go’ and ‘come’:

They could get hot water, but only after the fire had been going for a while and the back boiler had heated up (BNC).

They hadn't a clue where the fire was coming from (BNC).

Having observed the lexicographical and corpus linguistic data in the English language we have singled out the following metaphoric models:


The work may be useful for cross-cultural communication issues, lectures on linguistics and culture studies.


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  5. CALDT – Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictionary & Thesaurus  (2015), Available at: (accessed 20 March 2015).
  6. CED – Collins English Dictionary (2015), Available at: (accessed 20 March 2015).
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  8. OALD – Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary (2015), Available at: (accessed 20 March 2015).