The Forgotten Trope
: Metonymy in Poetic Action

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis seeks to advance literary theory and in particular the theory of poetic language by developing a theory of metonymy as a literary trope. After a critical assessment of available views on metonymy, the first part of the thesis sets out to explore and analyse the aesthetic status, structure and poetic function of metonymy on the basis of concrete literary material. Premised on the notion of poetic language as defamiliarisation and following the establishment of an operational definition of metonymy, a corpus of ancient Greek texts, chiefly from lyric poetry and tragedy, is examined and metonymic occurrences are isolated. Contrasting categories of metonymy are established as they emerge from the corpus and analysed in their individual structure and shared characteristics. Further examples from German poetry are adduced for illustration and comparison as and where appropriate. On this basis, a general theory of metonymy as a literary trope is developed, centred on the notion of contiguity as proposed by Jakobson but now re-interpreted as lexical contiguity: by way of revising the theory of semantic fields, it is suggested that metonymy is best understood as a shift within a semantic field, conceptualising the field itself as the result of regular collocations in ordinary usage. This proposition indicates why metonymy’s defamiliarising effects appear less intense than those of metaphor, explains the relevance of grammatical categories for metonymy and clarifies the relationship between metaphor and metonymy. The second part of the thesis refines this theory and considers some of its further implications in literary practice by assessing what happens to metonymy in translation, that is, under the impact of changed linguistic, syntactic and cultural contexts.
Date of Award1 Jul 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorMichael Silk (Supervisor) & Matthew Bell (Supervisor)

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