Language is the vehicle through which a person communicates their thoughts, ideas, feelings and opinions to another individual. Language often reflects human life, and since human life is abundant with variety and differing experiences, language tends to reflect that richness and variety. To that end, the way through a person chooses to express themselves linguistically can bring out the ability of language to be a tool of conveying complex thoughts colorfully. Such forms of expressing evocative feelings through language are termed as figurative language, and as the name suggests, figurative language makes ample use of the rhetorical device known as the figure of speech.
As mentioned in the preceding paragraph, figurative language encompasses various figures of speech that employ different rhetorical techniques to achieve their desired effect on the listener, reader or the audience. Figurative language re-enforces ordinary language’s by providing a platform where an individual can place a figure of speech that fits the context of the conversation and combine it with the standard grammatical syntax of ordinary language to either express their innate thought or evoke thoughts from their viewer or listener. To understand the various ways through which figurative language can have an impact on the emotions and beliefs of the audience, it is essential that the figures of speech constituting figurative language be briefly examined.
The most common rhetorical device used in figurative language is the simile. A simile is simply a direct comparison made between two dissimilar objects, using the words “like” and “as” as conjunctions to connect the comparison and the objects that are being compared. These are simple comparisons, comparing the similar qualities shared between two different objects. For example, a cat and a king have nothing common. However, when we say that a cat is sitting like a king on the chair, the quality with which the cat is sitting on the chair evokes within us the mental image of a king sitting on his throne. Hence, a simile is evocative in its approach.
A metaphor is also a comparison made between two very different things. However, the comparison is an indirect one, and there is no use of conjunctions as we see in the case of similes. The comparison is implied, and it depends on the intellectual capacity of the listener or the reader to understand the context within which the implied comparison is being made. Consider the example where we often tend to say that a cold-hearted person has a heart of stone. As a simile, it would have been that the person’s heart is as cold as a stone, however, as a metaphor invites the reader’s or listener’s intellect to understand the comparison and understand it. Thus, the approach of a metaphor is intellectual.
A hyperbole is an exaggerated statement that is used to emphasise on a particular point or to bring out humour. The content of such exaggerated statements are often so outrageous that n person would believe it, but it evokes and implies a sentiment or emotion that the nature of the exaggeration embodies. For example, one of the most commonly stated forms of hyperbole is any sentence where the speaker states that they have acted “a million times”. Now, no one can carry out an action for a million times. However, the statement with this phrase can express through exaggeration the intensity of the sentiment or emotion that the speaker is experiencing.
Another typical figure of speech employed in the use of figurative language is the use of personification. It is the process through which the speaker or author attributes non-human objects or abstractions with human qualities, usually to evoke the persin’s imagination and invite them to take an interest in the subject that is under discussion. An example of personification is, “April is the cruellest month of the year”. Here, April is a non-human construct that is used to measure time in terms of a month. However, April also happens to be the hottest month of the year as it covers the middle of the summer season. By conferring upon it, the human quality of being cruel, the reader or listener understands that the heat of April is often unbearable. Once again, the engagement is based on the intellect and its contextualisation.
From the above discussion, it is quite evident that figurative language is a powerful way of expressing oneself and one’s thoughts by using figures of speech to augment the intensity and significance of the expression. However, figurative language on its own does very little to empower an individual and the use of their language unless it is contextualised and re-enforced by other linguistic approaches that set the frame of reference through which another individual can understand the meaning behind the use of a person’s use of figurative language. Some of the alternative linguistic approaches that can be used include audio-visual communication and tone.
Words are in themselves powerful in terms of the significance and meaning that they carry for a general audience. However, given that each experience differs from one another, it is not possible to conceptualise or rationalise that words would carry the same degree of meaning or significance for everybody. Hence, audio-visual communication, combined with the use of figurative language helps the audience to understand the speaker. In terms of written communication, the use of figurative language should exist in a situation where the action is being descriptively conveyed to the readers. This method would help the reader to connect with the figurative language with the action that they encounter.
In the context of verbal communication, figurative language can be further enriched through the proper use of tone and stress. The use of tone and stress can significantly change the meaning and significance of the thing being talked about. Therefore, with the proper use of tone and stress when talking figurative language can have an impact that is greater than its own self. These two characteristics of the spoken word would bring out more meaning of the figurative language being utilised.