Björn Fritsche, PhD Candidate and Visitor to FrameNet, Studies Metaphor's Use in Political Discourse

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Bjoern FritscheBjörn Fritsche is visiting FrameNet for six months on a fellowship through the DAAD FITworldwide program, which also funds our German visiting agreement. He is a PhD candidate at the Heinrich-Heine University in Dusseldorf.

He began his university career at Trier University, intending to get his degree in legal studies, but in 2006 switched to Heinrich-Heine University, where he took Germanic studies and English. In his second year of studies, he heard Elizabeth Wehling, now an ICSI postdoc, give a talk on the work of George Lakoff, a UC Berkeley professor of linguistics and an affiliated ICSI researcher, and his theories about metaphor and its role in how we think about the world. Björn's studies have been in this area ever since.

In 2008, he applied for and received a fellowship as a visiting scholar at UC Davis; in 2009, he received his bachelor's degree from Heinrich-Heine University. His bachelor's thesis focused on metaphor's influence on thought. He went on to receive his master's degree in German linguistics and literature and, in 2011, began doctoral studies at the University of Indiana at Bloomington on a Max Kade fellowship. Quickly realizing his interests in German political metaphor would be better served at a German university, he returned to Heinrich-Heine and continued his research.

ICSI was recommended to Björn since the work of the MetaNet project is so closely aligned with his own interests in framing and metaphor. MetaNet, a project within the IARPA-funded Metaphor Program, is building a system that can automatically extract and understand metaphors in four languages; in related work, team members such as Lera Boroditsky and Ben Bergen study metaphor's influence on how people think about things.

For his thesis, Björn is interested in the similarities and differences between German and American English political metaphors, and how different political parties use metaphor differently. He's particularly interested in adapting for this purpose an experiment performed by Lera Boroditsky, a professor at UC San Diego, in which she used different metaphors to describe a crime wave in a community; subjects were then asked to say how they thought crime should be fought. Those who read a passage describing crime as a "beast" were more likely to suggest stronger enforcement as a solution than those who read a passage describing crime as a "virus." Björn is interested in designing experiments that use this basic structure but are applied to political discourse.

On previous stays here in the U.S., Björn has driven around the country (and parts of Mexico, where the GPS on his car broke -  twice). He also enjoys hiking and sea diving - so long as it doesn't involve nausea-inducing boat trips.