Welcome to the Metaphor Map of English! This interactive resource presents the results of the first, and so far only, research project to undertake a systematic and comprehensive analysis of metaphor in any of the world’s languages. “Mapping Metaphor with the Historical Thesaurus of English” was funded by the AHRC from 2012 to 2015, and used the electronic database underlying the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary to investigate all occurrences of metaphor throughout the recorded history of English. More than 14,000 metaphorical connections were identified, some of them attested from the earliest stages of the language during the period of Old English, and many others emerging in later centuries. These connections are instantiated by tens of thousands of individual words.

The research findings can be accessed and explored through this resource, which is divided into two parts to reflect the seismic change in English brought about by the Norman Conquest of 1066. Users are able to search in a range of different ways, focusing either diachronically on the language from the Middle English period to the present day through the Metaphor Map of English, or synchronically on pre-Conquest English through the Metaphor Map of Old English.

The methodology developed for the project was both innovative and empirical. Using a data-driven approach, all senses of all words in the history of English were analysed electronically in order to identify all occurrences of identical word forms in different semantic categories. This was followed by manual analysis of the word forms in each pair of categories (165,000 pairs in total) in order to differentiate metaphor from other linguistic phenomena such as homonymy and non-metaphorical polysemy. In total, over 4 million word senses and accompanying pieces of data such as dates of occurrence were analysed manually. In order to ensure that the research was fully rigorous, all such analysis was carried out twice, from both sides of each category pair, and then further checked by members of the project team working independently. More information on the project methodology can be found here.

Key questions that the project aimed to address include:

These questions and many others are discussed in publications arising from the project, which are listed here. In addition, a follow-up project also funded by AHRC used the research findings to develop teaching materials for use in schools.