Conduit Metaphor

In linguistics, the conduit metaphor is a dominant class of figurative expressions used when discussing communication itself. It operates whenever people speak or write as if they "insert" their mental contents (feelings, meanings, thoughts, concepts, etc.) into "containers" (words, phrases, sentences, etc.) whose contents are then "extracted" by listeners and readers. Thus, language is viewed as a "conduit" conveying mental content between people. wikipedia

Defined and described by linguist Michael J. Reddy, PhD, his discovery of this conceptual metaphor refocused debate within and outside the linguistic community on the importance of metaphorical language.

The conduit metaphor has been pretty much set aside as accurate or valuable. The conceptual problem is that in the conduit metaphor, language is both the vehicle and the content: The conduit is made up of language, and we send language down it. The metaphor also shorts the idea that language itself is not ideologically neutral: the conduit itself carries and enforces ideologies.

It doesn't readily account for two-way communication.

A conceptual mobius strip.

Better conceptual models are used by rhetoricians. Here's a A Social Semiotic Model of Meaning wiki based on Kress, van Leeuwen, and Jewitt

Akin to semiosis is a consideration of The Textualized Rhetorical Situation wiki


See Reddy, M. J. (1979). The conduit metaphor: A case of frame conflict in our language about language. In A. Ortony (Ed.), Metaphor and Thought (pp. 284–310). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pdf

Although common metaphors survive in a darwinian sense because they have some utility, metaphors can lead to long-standing misunderstandings. Reddy argues exactly this in the close of his paper when he observes that most people think knowledge is collected in the university library, not the faculty that teach it.

Reddy's paper provided some inspiration for the sparse navigation of the original wiki now made even sparser with federation. This thinking has been tangentially defined in principle as High Awareness in Foraging.