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Croatian metaphors for hope

Author: Ljiljana Saric, University of Oslo, Norway

Since early 2020, many of us have often been thinking about mental health and what influences it in a positive way while trying to cope with the dark situation. Many colleagues started intriguing projects about metaphors and the ways officials and ordinary people represent COVID (e.g., #Reframe COVID, working with new and intriguing data appearing on a daily basis. Unsurprisingly, the war metaphor was omnipresent, with some notable competing ones; however, dealing with these metaphors from a meta perspective did not seem an ideal option for me in terms of coping.

For that reason, in spring 2020 I decided to turn to a different object of inquiry and go back to my notes about the conceptualization of hope in Croatian. I started the “hope project” earlier, inspired by Heli Tissari’s (2017) research on English, and I returned to it in the strange circumstances when countries, regions, and towns became literal containers. I not only felt imprisoned (a feeling shared by many) but also experienced a new kind of darkness. I started dealing with my notes about hope because I strongly associated hope with much-needed light, and I thought that dealing with it at a meta-level could be a “therapy.” I was impressed by the amount of research on hope by philosophers and psychologists documented in, for instance, The Oxford Handbook of Hope by Gallagher and Lopez (2018). Philosophers and psychologists have discussed the status of hope—as an emotion, virtue, disposition, state, or something else—and have even dealt with some linguistic aspects (Averill 1991; Scioli & Biller 2009: 24–25). I found Averill’s (1991) definition of hope as an “intellectual emotion” particularly interesting. Linguists have less been interested in hope than in some other emotions, perhaps because of its somewhat unclear status.

Nada (hope) in a Croatian corpus

I decided to examine the metaphorical profile of nada ‘hope’ in Croatian, looking at metaphorical language in the hrWaC corpus ( First, I started counting examples and source domains, without a well-developed idea of what to do after that counting: perhaps doing simple mathematics was also a way of coping. I eventually organized myself somewhat better, examining metaphorical expressions (corresponding to what Stefanowitsch (2006) labeled metaphorical patterns) in corpus citations containing the word nada: for instance, ulijevati nadu ‘pour hope’ is such a pattern. Although I initially limited myself to a detailed analysis of a random sample of 1,000 citations, knowing that I could not examine all 104,330, I later examined numerous additional citations. I also analyzed the 1,500 top collocates on the collocation candidates’ list for nada. In the sample, I identified all the metaphorical expressions co-occurring with nada and their source domains (e.g., warmth for topla nada ‘warm hope’). On the collocation candidates’ list, I identified potentially figuratively used words and their source domains (e.g., liquid for ulijevati nadu ‘pour hope’). When examining metaphoricity, I applied the MIP method developed by the Pragglejaz Group (2007).

The variety of metaphors for nada

I identified forty-six metaphors for nada‘hope’, which are of different specificity levels: for instance, seventeen relate to the object source domain, defining hope as a specific object (e.g., fragile or colored) and eight to the living organism domain (defining hope, e.g., as a traitor). As to the predominant metaphors, nada is primarily conceptualized as something that can be given, implying a transfer scenario. Nada is often specified as a measurable object or quantity, a valuable object worth searching for that can be stolen, and, in favorable circumstances, given or gained back, and a destroyable object. When close to us, nada is something where we are located (a container), but it is also a substance located in us, either at an unspecified place, or in our voice, heart, soul, chest, and eyes.

Interestingly, although nada is associated with light, as I initially assumed, the share in the sample for the three related source domains—light, fire, and warmth—is only 3%. Some metaphors that often go unnoticed in introspective studies on emotion metaphors—entity, object, and container—account for 84.4% of all metaphor­ical expressions with nada in my sample. The Sketch Engine’s visualization below also indicates the significance of the source domains object (of transfer), valuable object, and container. However, the visualization and my analysis also show that plant, liquid, and sleeping organism are prominent. Some modifiers point toward the metonymic usage of nada (e.g., mlada nada ‘young hope’, exemplifying the metonymy hope for persons causing hope). Similar usages are attested in 110 examples in my sample.

Modified word sketches of nada (glosses and domains are added). Nada as an object (mainly pink); modifiers of nada (mainly green).

In addition to rather frequent “generic” ones, I also found some less frequent metaphors, and some creative metaphors instantiated in a few corpus examples only. Among less frequently instantiated source domains are agentive force, natural force, social superior, antagonist, heat, snow, inspiration/muse, instrument, dream, and up. Some fre­quently discussed source domains in research on metaphors and emotions (e.g., Kövecses 2000)—burden, captive animal, a force dislocat­ing the self, and insanity—are not at all utilized in the conceptualization of hope in Croatian, at least not in the corpus examined. In the variety of contexts examined, nada is a positive phenomenon, and the reason why some domains are rarely or never utilized is the positive value ascribed to nada. Another reason why some domains are not utilized is perhaps the absence or lesser visibility of bodily reactions, which are prominent with some other emotions.

A guardian and traitor

Positive values attributed to hope in psychology are also apparent in its linguis­tic profile; nada is related to comfort and happiness. If it is linked to a physical sensation, that sensation is certainly pleasurable and related to warmth. The source domains warmth, light, and fire are clearly evaluative, emphasizing the positive val­ue of nada, as do the domains valuable object, guardian, and up (instantiated in expressions such as letjeti na krilima nade ‘fly on the wings of hope’). Positive evaluation is also observable in nonfig­urative contexts (e.g., frequent adjectival collocates of nada are radostan ‘joyful’ and dobar ‘good’).

However, although many figurative patterns strongly define it as a positive concept, nada is also frequently negatively evaluated, which is related to the (infrequent) traitor metaphor, and the contexts with lažna nada ‘false/fake hope’. The adjective lažan ‘false/fake’ is the strongest adjectival collocate of nada (and nada is the strongest noun collocate from the semantic field of feelings, dispositions, and states of lažan). Another frequent negatively evaluative adjective collocating with nada is lud ‘crazy’, which evaluates a highly uncertain outcome that is nevertheless somebody’s object of hope. Interestingly, such ambivalent views on hope are found in archaic and classical Greek poetry (Cairns 2016), in which hope is both positively conceptualized as a healer and defender, and negatively as a companion that leads astray, causing grief.

Many metaphors for nada I identified apply to many other emotions, dispositions, and states, and the next step would be to determine which metaphors are strongly associated with it, distinguishing it from other emotions and states. For this, methodologically comparable studies of other emotions in Croatian are needed. My corpus inquiries showed that the strongest metaphorical collocates of nada are tračak ‘ray’ and ulijevati ‘pour’, instantiating the source domains light and liquid. Additional corpus evidence also suggests the significance of these two domains: nada (followed by optimizam ‘optimism’) is the strongest collocate of tračak ‘ray’ and the fourth-strongest of ulijevati ‘pour’ (after povjerenje ‘trust’, optimizam ‘optimism’, and strahopoštovanje ‘awe’).

Shared and specific aspects

All the source domains Tissari (2017) identified for hope in early and modern English—more than ten, including valuable commodity, fluid in a container (the body), instrument, inanimate entity, and up—were found in hrWaC for nada, as well. The differences relate to how frequent certain metaphors are in Croatian compared to English. For example, the metaphor hope is a fluid in a container, which seems to be among a few metaphors strongly associated with nada in Croatian, was hardly present in the early English data and is infrequent in modern English.

My study (Šarić 2020) on which the reflections above are based is just a basis and starting point for future qualitative research focusing, among other things, on the conceptualization of nada in various genres and discourse realms. Moreover, the set of other expressions associated with hope in Croatian, beyond the noun nada, should be considered. I would also like to examine dominant source domains for nada by checking native speakers’ judgments. A good way to proceed would be collaboration with psychologists.

A comparative view on hope is an interesting topic for further research. I believe that a comparative cross-linguistic view on metaphorical conceptualizations of hope, and the way it relates to non-metaphorical aspects, is a great topic for a multi-authored book.



Averill, J. R. (1991). Intellectual emotions. In C. D. Spielberger, I. G. Sarason, Z. Kulcsár & G. L. Van Heck (eds.). Stress and anxiety (vol. 14), 3–16. Washington, DC: Hemisphere.

Cairns, D. L. (2016). Metaphors for hope in archaic and classical Greek poetry. In R. Caston and R. Kaster (eds.) Hope, joy, and affection in the classical world, 13–44. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kövecses, Z. (2000). Metaphor and emotion: Language, culture and body in human feeling. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Natural Language Processing group. hrWaC – Croatian web corpus.

Šarić, Ljiljana (2020). Metaphorical conceptualization of hope (nada) in Croatian: A corpus-based study. Современа филологија / Journal of Contemporary Philology, Vol 3 No 2 (2020):

Scioli, A. and Biller, H. B. (2009). Hope in the age of anxiety. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Stefanowitsch, A. (2006). Words and their metaphors: A corpus-based approach. In A. Stefanowitsch and S. T. Gries (eds.). Corpus-based approaches to metaphor and metonymy, 61–105. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Tissari, H. (2017). Corpus linguistic approaches to metaphor analysis. In E. Semino, Z. Demjén and M. Park (eds.). The Routledge handbook of metaphor and language, 117–130. London: Routledge.

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