The Role of Human Scale, Embodied Metaphors/Blends in the Speech and Gestures of Entrepreneurs

Posted: 2 Nov 2008

Date Written: November 1, 2008


Entrepreneurs regularly "operate at the edge of what they do not know" (Hill & Levenhagen 1995:1057), trying to identify and pursue potential business opportunities. It is claimed that they have "to make the unfamiliar familiar by framing the new venture (often through metaphor and analogy) in terms that are understandable and thus legitimate" (Lounsbury and Glynn 2001:549). But if we analyze discourse data from entrepreneurs, what kinds of metaphors are they actually expressing while they are "thinking for speaking" (Slobin 1987) about their work?

The data consist of three videorecorded semi-structured interviews, each with a different British/English male entrepreneur, and a naturally-occurring business conversation of one of them. Sequences of talk relevant to the topics of opportunity identification and exploitation were marked in transcripts of the videos for investigation. Two of the researchers coded these sequences for metaphorically used words with a variant of the Pragglejaz (2007) procedure. Given the known role of gesture in thinking-for-speaking and in communication, the speakers' manual gestures in the topic-relevant sequences of the video data were coded by the third researcher for metaphoric expressions (abstract reference), following Cienki (2005). The two coded datasets were brought together and compared. The metaphoric expressions in words and gestures for each speaker were grouped according to categories of generalized mappings used per speaker - Cameron's (in press) "systematic metaphors".

A predominant pattern found in the systematic metaphors is that they involve human scale, embodied experiences which are particular to each entrepreneur's situation. For example, in talk about developing a new service (managing user access to an internet connection), one entrepreneur characterizes it as having "a few rough edges" but yet being "quite well shaped" even though "it's not that flexible." Repeated mention of "productizing" this service is accompanied by a two-handed gesture, palms facing each other, hands slightly cupped, shoulder-height, as if producing an invisible large round object in the air. In words and gestures the process is reified in different ways as an object with specific qualities, realizable as it is held or manipulated. The embodied metaphors bring these speakers' reasoning about complex processes down to a human scale, sometimes with the gestures adding a directional perspective, with the entrepreneur himself as the source.

Given the view of metaphoric mappings as types of blending (Fauconnier & Turner 2002) and of meaning-making with speech and gestures via conceptual integration (Parrill & Sweetser 2004), it is significant that the embodied metaphors these speakers use reflect the achievement of human scale (Fauconnier & Turner 2002:312). Human-scale metaphors/blends, with the entrepreneurs as the agents producing them, may specifically appeal to (and justify) the egocentric bias of entrepreneurs to control novel ventures and to make them succeed, even overestimating their own abilities (Baron 1998). Human-scale metaphors/blends in words and gestures may also provide a form of expressing one's reasoning which is more readily susceptible to mental simulation (Gaglio 2004), making them especially functional for entrepreneurs to highlight their own agency and communicate their arguments persuasively to potential stakeholders.

Keywords: metaphor, gesture, entrepreneur, thinking-for-speaking, human-scale

JEL Classification: M13

Suggested Citation

Cienki, Alan and Cornelissen, Joep P. and Clarke, Jean, The Role of Human Scale, Embodied Metaphors/Blends in the Speech and Gestures of Entrepreneurs (November 1, 2008). 9th Conference on Conceptual Structure, Discourse, and Language (CSDL9), Cleveland, OH, October 2008. Available at SSRN:

Alan Cienki (Contact Author)

VU University Amsterdam ( email )

De Boelelaan 1105
Amsterdam, ND North Holland 1081 HV

Joep P. Cornelissen


No Address Available

Jean Clarke


No Address Available

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