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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Fortune and her wheel : a cognitive linguistic approach Byrne, Adriana


This thesis is a cognitive linguistic analysis of the concept of fortune and how it has changed over time. It examines the history of the word 'fortune' and what meanings it has had, the representation of Fortune as a human-like personality that interacts with humans, and the use of the ‘wheel of fortune’ symbol to represent unpredictable changes in life. All three of these elements are shown to be part of the same larger process of conceptual change. The pagan goddess Fortuna begins as a common blend that treats unpredictable events as the actions of a person-like entity. She gradually takes on more features and functions as her name is metonymically expanded to designate a variety of elements in the conceptual frame of RISK, e.g. positive and negative outcomes that result from Fortuna’s decisions are called ‘fortunes’. Fortune’s wheel is a structure that relies on very basic primary metaphors such as REPETITION IS CIRCULAR MOTION, which the Romans use to talk about repeated reversals of fortune. They also represent Fortuna standing on a wheel, using the BALANCE schema to show her instability. These image schematic structures are thought of in a much more cohesive way by medieval thinkers who used the image of a person attached to the outer rim of a wheel, riding it around in a circle and going up and down at the same time. For the first time, that person’s moving viewpoint is what makes the wheel significant. Over the course of later centuries the meanings of the word 'fortune' come to be used in increasingly separate contexts, and so do different images of Fortune (as controller turning the wheel, or nude figure balancing on top of a wheel, rolling around but ready to be caught). As probability and randomness become more popular concepts, the wheel is blended with the image of a wheel used for gambling, with a focus on where the wheel will stop. It leaves open the possibility that Fortune may be controlling the wheel, but the more salient meaning is that by interacting with the wheel, an individual can win a fortune.

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