The path and building metaphors in the speeches of Vladimir Putin: Back to the future?

  • Koteyko, N. and L. Ryazanova-Clarke (2009). The path and building metaphors in the speeches of Vladimir Putin: Back to the future? Slavonica, 15 (2), 112–127.


A critical exploration is provided of the path and building metaphors usedin the speeches of the former Russian president Vladimir Putin. We usethe concepts of ‘discourse metaphor’ and ‘frame’ in our analysis of a corpusof Putin’s speeches written and delivered between 2000 and 2007 in orderto reveal the rhetorical strategies employed in them, and establish the ideo-logical patterns of metaphor use. The metaphors are identified, analysedaccording to source domains, and then explored for their contribution to theoverall project of the Russian president. Our findings suggest that, althoughthe metaphorical expressions used by Putin are conventional and havea strong experiential grounding, in pragmatic terms, the choice of themappears to be in line with the legitimization and delegitimization strategiesadopted by the former Russian president during his two terms in office


Metaphors and legitimization strategies in political discourse
In recent years, students of metaphor have explored its role in political languagewhere the deployment of cultural conceptual models, root metaphors and theformulation of ideologies is particularly crucial (Chilton, 1996, 2004; Musolff, 2004;Charteris-Black, 2004; Goatly, 2007). This body of work has focused upon discoursemetaphors — metaphors that are conceptually grounded but whose meaning is alsoshaped by their use at a given time and in the context of a debate about a certaintopic. The source concepts of discourse metaphors refer to phenomenologicallysalient real or fictitious objects that are part of interactional space (i.e., can bepointed at, like machines or houses) and/or occupy an important place in culturalimagination. Conversely, discourse metaphors themselves highlight salient aspects ofa socially, culturally or politically relevant topic (Koteyko, Brown and Crawford,2008; Lakoff, 2004; Zinken, Hellsten and Nerlich, 2008). In this way, while concep-tual metaphors are considered universal, independent of time, discourse metaphorschange with the ongoing discourses and are used for specific purposes (Hellsten,2000). This aspect of discourse metaphors is of particular importance for our inves-tigation here, as we hope to demonstrate how the former Russian president adoptedthe productive conceptual domains of path and building to achieve particular bothculturally and historically specific strategic purposes
The metaphors in Putin’s speeches exploit the interference between the conceptof
put’ [goal-directedness] with the more ‘concrete’, i.e. intersubjectively available,referent
put’ [path] to construct an analogy in which a particular political activityor task is presented as a path to be traversed. Although the topics of such metaphorsare varied, the political task of achieving democratic and economic ‘development’is characteristic of the earlier speeches (2000–2001) and is repeatedly talked aboutas a path to be travelled (put’ demokraticheskogo/ekonomicheskogo razvitiia, put’razvitiia demokratii).
Building/construction metaphors
Construction of the ‘strong state’ 
Building metaphors are often used with positive undertones (Mussolf, 2004) as build-ing implies co-ordinated human effort and, just as with the path metaphor, it meansa development in a certain direction, for example in building economy, leading it ona path. More importantly, it also means a collective effort, which makes buildingmetaphors an effective device for emphasising the consolidation of society in pursuitof a common goal.The proliferation of building metaphors in Putin’s texts serves to demonstrate thepre-occupation of his government with the idea of the ‘restoration’ of order after theturbulent Yeltsin decade. The frequent use of the noun gosudarstvo (‘state’) and go-sudarstvennost’(‘statehood’) as targets shows that order was being restored above allat the state level — the hierarchical machinery of the state, the so-called hierarchy of governance. 
Delegitimization with the help of perestroika and lomka
 Just as barriers and obstacles were employed as part of the path metaphor tonegatively evaluate the previous political regime, Putin’s metaphorical use of the verb lomat´ and the noun lomka, which in his speech is synonymous with perestroika ,serves as a delegitimization strategy to portray the events following the breakdownof the Soviet Union in a negative light
Explanation of metaphor use
According to Charteris-Black, critical metaphor analysis enables us to identify ‘which  metaphors are chosen and to explain why these metaphors are chosen by illustrating how they create political myths’ (2005, p. 28, original emphasis). In our study, it canbe argued that the use of path and especially building metaphors allows the presidentto represent himself as a dynamic agent who is ‘mythically in control of the forcesof creation and destruction’ (Charteris-Black, 2005, p. 25). Against the perceived‘time of troubles’ of Yeltsin, Putin emerges as a strong ruler moving Russia towardseconomic stability and prosperity. This, in turn, is represented as developmenttowards a restoration of the Russian Great State. The path metaphors may implic-itly add to this image of a strong ruler with accompanying references to control, asaccording to the path/course/route metaphor schema there is only one best directionto the goal (Goatly, 1997).

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