How does one undertake the task of identifying a metaphor? What
linguistic markers signal that an utterance or
proposition is metaphorical? Donald Davidson
There are no instructions for devising
metaphors; there is no manual for determining what a
metaphor 'means' or 'says'; there is no test for
metaphor that does not call for taste.
But Josef Stern appears to posit compelling
evidence that may successfully militate against Davidson's thesis.
He initially presents a semantic account of metaphors,
comparing them to demonstrative or deictic signifiers
(i.e. indexicals) that linguistically point to
noetically intended objects. Nevertheless, Stern
recognizes that there is a linguistic pragmatic
element involved in the detection of metaphors. Two
such pragmatic features of human discourse are the
Sitz-im-Leben (life situation) and the koinonoetic context (shared social situation) of communicative agents. Therefore, knowledge of how language works in its real life social or contextual setting is essential for metaphor recognition; it forms an essential part of the
diagnostic criterion for metaphoricity.
Stern rigorously develops this point in his seminal study on metaphor and context. Deciphering indexicals requires that a discourse agent possess both semantic competence and the knowledge of a particular discourse situation since demonstratives are apparently context-dependent. Juxtaposing deictic terms and metaphors, Stern maintains that in order to construe metaphors adequately, a speaker belonging to a given discourse community must also have semantic competence and intimate knowledge of the situational context in which communicative agents utter or write specific metaphors. Metaphors (like demonstratives) are also context-dependent: "Metaphors do not function in isolation. They exist in both a rhetorical context and a cultural context."
Recognizing a metaphorical locution thus requires being acquainted with a specified Sitz-im-Leben. When one is conversant with a certain social, cognitive, political, rhetorical, literary, intellectual or religious context, inter alia, he or she evidently is capable of discerning metaphors as such.