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Water/flood as a Metaphor

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Water/Flood as a Metaphor

Language and thought interact in many different significant ways. Though there is great disagreement on whether or not language has its own influence on the thought and action of its speakers, do you believe that language changes the way you think? There is actually a term used to describe this question. It is called Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which says that the language you use does not determine the ideas in your head but can influence your thoughts, setting up habits of which you are probably completely unaware of. (Shariatmadari, 2015)

In the media, metaphors of water/flood are often used in relation to issues of immigration, and migration. Terms like ‘floods’, ‘pouring’, ‘streams’ and ‘waves’ frequently appear in news reports and now belong to the vocabulary of anyone dealing with, or writing on, migration issues across the globe. Multiple new examples can be found on a daily basis, whether it be in the newspapers, on TV, or across the internet. Indeed, various authors have pointed out the use of water as a metaphor in not only the media but also in political discourse and in legislative discussions, for example recently with President Donald Trump.

As Ruth Walker notes in her article, “Words with a Watery Background”, “water and particularly floods, are a recurrent theme of human history – so much so that it’s no wonder our language is filled with flood metaphors.”  It is obvious that such metaphors of water/flood reinforce the belief that immigrants – and migratory movements in general – are a threat to the country and to supreme control, since water is, as we all know, a liquid substance that can be extremely difficult to both stop and contain. We are able to have a slight control on it since it ever so easily pours through our hands. Though we are able to build walls and dams to contain it, there is always the probability that the tide will rise or the dam bursts – resulting in an immense flood. I refute the claim that the use of water/flood is a nonproductive use of words as a metaphor when talking about immigration because of their basic definitions of the words water/flood, their biological history, the history behind a metaphor, and lastly the geographical way it is used – most ‘water’ metaphors are commonly used in countries without sea boarders.

Believe it or not, we barely even notice figures of speech, yet they represent multiple fixed ideas that are just one way of looking at the world. The words you choose on a daily basis have a much deeper background than just the word and their meanings alone. To begin, Webster Dictionary defines water as, “a colorless, transparent, odorless, tasteless liquid that forms seas, lakes rivers, and rain and is the basic fluid of living organism.” To me, when you compare that definition to the term of water being used as a type of metaphor, it only makes half sense. First off, immigrants are PEOPLE. They are not colorless, odorless, tasteless (well I don’t know that…um ew), but they do have this basic fluid running through their bodies just like the rest of us.

According to the bible, water is used in a variety of metaphorical ways in scripture. It is used to symbolize the troublesome times in life that can and do come to human beings. In some context water stand for enemies who can attack and need to be overcome (Bible Dictionary, 2017) This is not about an attempt to limit freedom of speech or “ban” certain words. It’s about challenging subtle patterns of thinking that do not reflect reality. As the metaphors we are using to conduct it show, the debate about migration is sorely in need of some perspective.

Most metaphors arise from our physical experiences, which influence our thought processes. From the cognitive linguistic view, metaphors are used to understand one set of concepts in terms of another, which we are familiar with. They consist of a source and a target domain with the source as something more physical, in this case water, and the target being a more abstract kind (flood) of domain. When we think of the word flood, Webster Dictionary defines flood as, “an overflowing of a large amount of water beyond its normal confines, especially over what is normally dry land, cover or submerge (a place or area) with water, or arrive in overwhelming amounts or quantities.” A flood can also be seen as a natural disaster. In this case, the words water/flood are being used as a metaphorical description of forceful and destructive features of this so called “natural catastrophe” of what we as American’s call, immigration. “Social policy problems are often told through stories and the problems are strategically framed largely through metaphors underlying these stories” (Biria, 2000). None the less, by telling these stories, they are meant to set the direction for problem solving and suggest a prescription for action.



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