Cat Metaphors In Malay And English Proverbs
Animal metaphors appear in all kinds of ways in our language, but it is likely that we rarely think about where they come from. This study of animal metaphors, and specifically metaphors about cats, looks at both Malay and English proverbs to try to better understand how each culture views our feline friends. The novel research encourages us to look at both language and history to get a better sense of our relationship with animals in general, and cats in particular.
Using animals as metaphors and symbols, whether as a poetic gesture or as a way to say something about humans, is a pervasive aspect of many languages around the world. The authors of this study of Malay and English proverbs note that “research has shown that animal metaphors are often used to connote negative meanings in many cultures, because of the higher order form relegated to human beings compared to that of animals, as reflected in the Great Chain of Being (GCB).” Nevertheless, they say, “positive meanings are also associated with animals.” For example, lions and bulls are often associated with strength and courage in animal metaphors. With cats being one of the most common domesticated animals, it is probably no surprise that they are often spoken of metaphorically in conventional language and more specific figurative expressions. In their study, the authors sought “to answer three research questions: 1) Do Malay and English proverbs related to cats conform to the common proposition of cats as fickle and independent?; 2) What are the salient meanings conveyed by the Malay and English proverbs related to cats?; and 3) Is there any difference in the meanings associated with cat metaphors in the Malay and English proverbs?” Using databases of proverbs in both Malay and English, the researchers looked for those containing the word “cat” in English and “kucing” in Malay, and collected them together to analyze en masse.
Their results show the cross-cultural similarities and differences in how cats are viewed. According to their findings, both Malay and English proverbs related to cats revealed that “various meanings that conceptualise human characteristics and behaviour are conveyed by the manifestation of different aspects related to this animal. A few similar meanings associated with cats are found in both Malay and English proverbs. Proverbs in the two languages frame cats as authoritative, fierce or dangerous and untrustworthy.” They also found key differences in how the Malay proverbs positioned cats: in many instances, cats were portrayed as opportunistic, shameless, or even “insignificant.” These depictions in Malay proverbs did not have an analogous portrayal in English. However, in all cases, the metaphorical portrayal of proverbial cats was meant to say something about humans. The cat was always a stand-in for a certain kind of person. Whether that person is metaphorically good or bad varies from proverb to proverb.
Overall, the researchers found that “the examined data related to cats do not conform to the common proposition of cats,” as they are not portrayed as “fickle and independent” as cited by other researchers of literature. The authors note that “meanings ascribed to the same animal may differ from one language to another depending on the social and cultural environment that the language users live in.” In Malaysia, where cats are companion animals, but not regarded as “significant” in the same way that they are in the West, the differences in their literary portrayal is clearly related to their cultural position. For advocates, this study shows that understanding how different cultures perceive various animals may help us to adjust our advocacy to be more culturally relevant and appropriate.
Animals have been widely used metaphorically to convey certain meanings related to human beings in Malay and English. One such animal, cat, has a common proposition of being fickle and independent (Lakoff & Turner, 1989). This paper reports on the findings of a study that focused on the use of cat metaphors in Malay and English proverbs. It sought to ascertain whether the common proposition proposed by Lakoff and Turner is applicable to the data of this study. The study also aimed to examine the similarities and differences in the meanings associated with the cat metaphors in both Malay and English proverbs. Data of the study comprised Malay and English proverbs related to cats. They were selected from Malay and English books and online databases of proverbs. The data analysis focused on the examination of the meanings and metaphorical schemas of the respective proverbs using the Conceptual Metaphor Theory and the Great Chain of Being framework. The analysis revealed that the meanings associated with cat in Malay and English proverbs do not conform to the common proposition of Lakoff and Turner. The paper concludes that various differences in meanings are associated with the metaphorical schemas of the English and Malay proverbs, which are attributed to cultural differences of the two languages in question.