Auxlangs are meant to be easily learnt/understood by the entire populace of the world, no matter their native language. So, they are constructed to be unambiguous and it's reference should have a one-to-one mapping to worldly objects/concepts.

Doesn't having metaphors undermine the whole point of Auxlangs? I mean a metaphoric phrase can have different meaning in different contexts, which leads to ambiguity.

  • 1
    I'm not sure how a human language, natural or constructed, could prevent metaphors. – curiousdannii Sep 14 at 14:02
  • In case of auxlangs, by deliberately preventing it's usage. It is difficult to control a language if the user group is too large but for a small speaker community, maybe we can have a rule book of sorts. – Krutik Desai Sep 14 at 14:26
  • You can't prevent metaphors because human language is metaphor. Take a look at your own statement: preventing the usage of metaphor. So the abstract concept of METAPHOR is equated to a physical OBJECT that can be used. – Keith Morrison Sep 15 at 3:36
up vote 6 down vote accepted

Theoretically you can eliminate metaphor, yes, but you are working against human nature itself.

Certain metaphors are exceedingly common and embedded in the very grammar of many languages (although their exact expression may vary), so in that regard, avoiding metaphor is extremely difficult because it's somewhat an inherent part of the human psyche. Either you will subconsciously integrate some of it, or your users will inevitably create some. Grammaticalization typically originates directly in widespread metaphor.

Your etymologies and extended meanings (because even in an auxlang, creating a root for every meaning is downright exhausting: there's a reason most auxlangs borrow at least part of their vocabulary!) are usually going to be metaphorical in some ways, whether from real languages or from otehr roots. Indeed, "metaphor" is an example: etymologically, the meaning is "carry over, transfer".


Up is good, down is bad, quality is possession (hence the use of "have" for qualities and actions), individuals are samples ("a human has two eyes" is metaphor: you don't mean a specific human!).

Time is a major source of metaphor in this regard. Time usually moves from back to front. Movement is the key word: verbs of movements are extremely common expressors of time relations!

The body is space: using body parts to generate locatives is also a very common feature cross-linguistically, found in languages as distinct as Hebrew, Nahuatl and Swahili. The fact that virtually all languages in the world use body-relative directional (in front of, behind)... except for the aboriginal language Guugu Yimithirr, well known for using only absolute directions.

Fabrication is causation: the use of verbs meaning "make, create, fabricate" as causative auxiliary is a common metaphoric transfer of the idea of creating an object to "creating" an action in something else.

Metaphors are based on shared cultural understanding. Here is one often quoted example of a metaphor from Shakespeare's As You Like It:

All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances ...

Understanding this metaphor relies on the concept of 'theatre' being shared among the speakers. If you assume the word for 'stage' exists in your language, then that might indicate that this would be the case. So it depends on the reach of your language. In most cultures that regard themselves as 'civilised' you would probably find that something like theatre and plays exists, so this particular metaphor should be fine.

However, some metaphors can be so specific that even native speakers cannot understand them: He kicked the issue into touch. Unless you know about rugby, you are likely to not have a clue what the speaker is on about.

As you cannot really regulate the content of your language, but only vocabulary and syntax, you cannot stop speakers from using metaphors. It is the responsibility of the speaker to make sure they are understood by their target audience, so avoiding metaphors or culture-specific expressions/assumptions is generally a good idea, but it has to come from the speaker, not the designer. And the speaker will probably realise that very quickly when they fail to make themselves understood.

A conlang/auxlang is only a tool -- you cannot control how people use it.

If an auxlang did not have metaphors, it would soon acquire them if the auxlang in question were used as the world's second language. I doubt that there exists any community of sapient life forms that could not make comparisons between things, beings, and forces that happen to be dissimilar.

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