George Lakoff

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George Lakoff

George P. Lakoff (born May 24, 1941 in Bayonne , New Jersey ) is an American linguist. He was Professor of Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley until 2016 .

academic career

Lakoff graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with a degree in English literature and mathematics in 1962. His linguistic teachers at MIT included Roman Jakobson , Morris Halle, and Noam Chomsky . In 1966 he received his PhD from Indiana University . From 1965 to 1969 he taught linguistics at Harvard University . From 1972 until his retirement in 2016, Lakoff taught at the University of California, Berkeley.

As a student of Chomsky, he first worked in the field of generative transformation grammar and, in the 1960s, developed his generative semantics, an alternative to the interpretative semantics conceived by Jerrold Katz and Jerry Fodor and adopted by Chomsky . In this context, in the 1960s and 1970s the scientific debate between Chomsky, Lakoff and their supporters, known as "the linguistics wars" - not limited to linguistics alone - sparked. As a result, Lakoff turned to his - in tension with Chomsky's research - new specialty: cognitive linguistics . Best known are his theories about language as a metaphor system in human thought and political behavior and in society. In recent years he has become more and more involved in US politics. In June 2003 he founded the Rockridge Institute , a progressive think tank that advised Democratic Party politicians and carried out progressive public relations. At the end of April 2008, the institute had to be closed due to financing problems.

George Lakoff argues that people think in metaphors; this is mostly done unconsciously, as the metaphors are not or no longer perceived. Nevertheless, it is relevant in which metaphors you think and which are used rhetorically, since metaphors are always subject to a model of thought that is supported by the use of key terms. For example, if one uses military metaphors (“stand with rifle on foot”, “war on two fronts”, etc.) something is implicitly viewed as war. He describes John Dewey and Maurice Merleau-Ponty as the most important role models in his thinking .

Lakoff applies his analysis of metaphors, which, as described above, he understands as conceptual constructions, u. a. on the area of ​​(American) politics: the rhetoric of the conservatives is subject to the idea that state and society are a family with a strict father (state) whose children (citizens) must be disciplined so that they become responsible adults. The liberals / democrats rather share the metaphor of a protective, secure family environment in which the children (who are actually already citizens in the metaphor) are protected from negative influences by their parents so that they can develop freely (for politics that would e.g. mean: strict environmental standards and general health care). Furthermore, Lakoff sees the problem of the Democrats since the 1980s in the fact that they have too much and unconsciously adopted the discourse metaphors of the conservatives. This means that they use the same metaphors, but they correspond to the conservative notion of society, i.e. unconsciously support conservative political goals. For example, the German term tax relief and the English tax relief clearly imply that taxes are a burden or a nuisance or a suffering from which one needs relief.


  • George Lakoff: Linguistics and Natural Logic . Frankfurt 1971.
  • George Lakoff and Mark Turner: More Than Cool Reason: A Field Guide to Poetic Metaphor . The University of Chicago Press, 1989.
  • George Lakoff: Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal About the Mind . The University of Chicago Press, 1987. ISBN 0-226-46803-8 .
  • George Lakoff: Moral Politics. What Conservatives Know that Liberals Don't . The University of Chicago Press, 1996.
  • George Lakoff and Mark Johnson: Philosophy In The Flesh: the Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought. Basic Books, 1999.
  • George Lakoff and Rafael Núñez: Where Mathematics Comes From: How the Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics into Being . Basic Books, 2000, in: Journal of Experimental & Theoretical Artificial Intelligence, Vol. 17, No. 3, September 2005, pp. 305-315. ( Review by Ernest Davis , PDF; 108 kB)
  • George Lakoff: Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values ​​and Frame the Debate . Chelsea Green Publishing, 2004.
  • George Lakoff: The Political Mind / A cognitive Scientist's Guide to Your Brain and its Politics . Penguin, 2008, ISBN 978-0-67001-927-4 .
  • George Lakoff and Mark Johnson: Metaphors We Live By . University of Chicago Press, 1980. (German translation: Life in metaphors. Construction and use of language images . 7th edition, Heidelberg: Carl-Auer-Systeme-Verl., 2011. ISBN 3-89670-487-7 .)
  • George Lakoff, Elisabeth Wehling : The Little Blue Book - The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic . Free Press, New York 2012, ISBN 978-1-4767-0001-4 (English).
  • George Lakoff and Elisabeth Wehling: Quietly into the brain. Political language and its secret power , 3rd edition, Heidelberg: Carl-Auer-Verlag 2014, ISBN 978-3-89670-695-9 .

Web links

Commons : George Lakoff  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. George Lakoff: Linguistics and Natural Logic. Frankfurt 1971
  2. Jerrold J. Katz and Jerry A. Fodor: The structure of a semantic theory. In: Hugo Steger (Ed.): Suggestions for a structural grammar of German. Darmstadt 1970.
  3. Noam Chomsky: Aspects of the Syntax Theory (translation from: Aspects of the Theory of Syntax, 1965). Frankfurt 1969.