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Metaphors of Climate Science in Three Genres: Research Articles, Educational Texts, and Secondary School Student Talk

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Publication details

JournalApplied Linguistics
DateAccepted/In press - 27 Aug 2017
DateE-pub ahead of print - 9 Oct 2017
DatePublished (current) - 1 Apr 2019
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)379-403
Early online date9/10/17
Original languageEnglish


Experts are generally in agreement that anthropogenic climate change is happening and will increase in severity, but this view is not clearly reflected in more non-specialist texts. Research has shown that school students have a limited and sometimes faulty understanding of climate change. Metaphors are used by scientists in developing thought and communicating with non-scientists; they are also used by educators. This research investigates students’ understandings of climate change by comparing metaphor use in three corpora, of research articles, student educational materials, and of transcribed interviews with school students aged 11–16 from the north of England. We find that some metaphors are shared by the three corpora; where this happens, the researchers’ use tends to be highly conventionalized and technical, while educational materials extend and explore metaphors, and the students’ use is still more creative, sometimes resulting in inaccurate descriptions of the science. Students also develop some of their own distinctive metaphors based on their immediate concrete experience, and possibly on visual educational materials; these metaphors convey highly simplified and often inaccurate understandings of climate science.

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© Oxford University Press 2017.

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