Figures of Identity

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Human cognition, as viewed by linguistics, can be defined as recur-

ring acts of lingual identification of what we perceive. By naming objects

(phenomena, processes, and properties of reality), we identify them, i.e.

search for classes in which to place them, recalling the names of classes

already known to us.

There are two varieties of lingual identification. It is either active,

i.e. making the aim of a communicative performance and passive, presumed or

granted when several notional words follow one another without any

special communicative emphasis on most of them;

Forms of active identification include statements actively expressing

acts of claiming the identity, the equality of two notions (1). Identity

implied is to be found in certain cases of the use of synonyms and

synonymous expressions (2).

1. Simile, i.e. imaginative comparison. This is an explicit statement

of partial identity (affinity, likeness, similarity) of two objects. The word

identity is only applicable to certain features of the objects compared: in

fact, the objects cannot be identical; they are only similar, they resemble

imch other due to some identical features.

. "My heart is like a singing bird" (Rossetti).

1. A simile has manifold forms, semantic features and expressive aims.

It can be a simple sentence (She was like a tigress ready to jump at me), a

complex sentence with an adverbial clause of comparison (She looked at

him as uncomprehendingly as a mouse might look at a gravestone —

O'Brian); often it is seen in a single compound word: dog-like, hungry-


2. Quasi-identity. Another problem arises if we inspect certain

widespread cases of 'active identification' usually treated as tropes;

Utterances are traditionally qualified as examples of

metaphors. Taken as a whole, the two utterances do not differ greatly from similes. There are certainly no words in them that signalize

comparison, but the mental act of comparative confrontation is evident

enough, since no one would ever take the statements for what they mean


We can now positively state that the above utterances demonstrate a

syntagmatic figure of active identification, which in both implies comparison.

"The machine sitting at that desk was no longer a man: it was a

busy New York broker." (O. Henry)

The reader, who believes at first the subject dealt with to be just a

machine, is strongly impressed when he learns in a moment the writer's

verdict condemning the character concerned.

3. Synonymous replacements. This term goes back to the classification

of the use of synonyms proposed by M.D. that synynonyms are used in actual texts for two different reasons. One of them

is to avoid monotonous repetition of the same word in a sentence or a

Sequence of sentences. E.g.:

"The little boy was crying. It was the child's usual time for going

to bed, but no one paid attention to the kid."

The other purpose of co-occurrence of synonyms in a text, according

to Kuznets, is to make the description as exhaustive as possible under the

circumstances, to provide additional shades of the meaning intended:

"Dear Paul, it's very weak and silly of me, I know, to be so

trembly and shaky from head to foot." (Dickens)


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