Diachronic studies on metaphor use in public discourse have primarily focused on Inner Circle English and European languages. However, the usage patterns of specific metaphorical frames over time is universal or cultural-specific remains underexplored. This article investigates the diachronic changes of economic metaphors focusing on the concept of free economy in a corpus of Hong Kong political discourse spanning two decades (1997–2017). We analyzed fundamental changes (transformations of source domains) and incremental changes (transformations of source-target mapping principles) in free economy metaphors. We found that free economy metaphors have slightly decreased over time. No fundamental changes were found in the use of the four frequently occurring source domains: journey, living organism, sport, and building. The meanings of free economy metaphors either remained mostly constant (living organism and sport metaphors) or underwent incremental changes (journey and building metaphors). We argue that the constancy and the incremental change were two rhetorical strategies political leaders used to frame their political agenda for achieving full economic liberalization in Hong Kong. Given the complex socio-historical background of Hong Kong, this study provides a distinct East–West perspective on diachronic economic metaphor use in an Outer Circle English context.
- Metaphorical framing
- Diachronic analysis
- Free economy
- Fundamental and incremental change
- Political discourse