Alexis Black

Alexis Black


“To A Better Place…” : Contrasting Metaphors in Francophone Obituary Production

Death taboos operate as one of the strongest taboos in contemporary society and obituaries are prime terrains for cultural analysis of these taboos. The objective of this study is to analyze metaphorical phenomena in French language obituaries in Montréal and Paris in order to explore expressive, cultural and conceptual gaps (or lack thereof) between Standard French and Québécois linguistic production and to explore the implications of these gaps in terms of semantic domination (Boltanski 2011) and the comprehension and experience of dying and bereavement. This study examines 742 obituaries from four public newspapers in France and Québec. The research identifies the use of fixed linguistic expressions and identifies primary deep metaphors between the two linguistic communities. These deep metaphors demonstrate cultural and sociopolitical forces at work in conceptions of death and grief. However, the structure and focus of French and Québécois obituaries differs significantly and suggests contrasting comprehensions and social reactions to death. This research is unique in the field of metaphor studies because it concentrates on variation within a single language in different linguistic communities. I combine linguistics, cognitive anthropology and metaphor studies in order to engage with metaphors as linguistic and sociopolitical products. Methodologically, this study is organized in two stages: textual analysis and ethnographic fieldwork. This allows me to explore the role of metaphor in creating particular representations in obituaries and the role of these representations in the comprehensions of social actors.


I am a PhD student in Concordia University’s Social and Cultural Analysis program. My research analyzes the deployment of figurative language in francophone media and from individual speakers in order to survey correspondences between the way mass-mediated narratives portray the world and the way the consumers of these narratives conceive of their worlds. My dissertation project uses embodied and experiential approaches to language and cognition to analyze linguistic production concerning the theme of interplanetary colonization and the human imaginary relating to outer space and potential new home worlds. I specifically survey francophone media and conduct fieldwork with francophone speakers in two urban locations (Montréal and Paris) because French is one, if not the, world’s most standardized and policed language (Armstrong and Pooley 2010). This linguistic hyper- standardization furnishes me an excellent opportunity to determine to what extent experiential input and mass-mediated input influence the ways people talk about and perceive topics like space travel.