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Understanding figurative language: Studies on the comprehension of metaphors and similes


Understanding figurative language: Studies on the comprehension of metaphors and similes

Roncero, Carlos (2013) Understanding figurative language: Studies on the comprehension of metaphors and similes. PhD thesis, Concordia University.

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Roncero_PhD_F2013.pdf - Accepted Version


At least since Aristotle, scholars have contrasted the more “literal” simile (e.g., lawyers are like sharks) with the more "figurative" metaphor (e.g., lawyers are sharks) to better understand how people deduce non-literal interpretations when comprehending figurative language such as metaphor. This thesis presents four manuscripts that investigated the comprehension of metaphors and similes to better understand this literal-figurative divide. The study reported in the first manuscript, employing off-line ratings and property-listing tasks, examined how metaphors and similes are interpreted, and how such statements are used on the Internet. Property lists generated for metaphors and similes were equivalent, although connotative properties seemed more salient for metaphors. The same study also found that similes on the Internet were used more often before an explanation. The study reported in the second manuscript examined the comprehension of metaphors and similes using self-paced reading, while the study reported in the third manuscript used eye-tracking. Results of the two studies were inconsistent: the self-paced reading study suggested similes were more difficult to process (longer reading times), while the reverse was suggested by the eye-tracking study (shorter saccade lengths for metaphors). Because first-pass reading measures such as saccade length are most immune to extra-linguistic variables, taken together results from both studies favor viewing metaphors as more difficult to comprehend than similes. Finally, the fourth manuscript presents a study that examined how people living with Alzheimer's disease interpret metaphors and similes using paraphrase and interpretation tasks. Interpretations for metaphors and similes were equivalent, but more apt statements (music is (like) medicine) were easier to interpret than less apt ones (e.g., life is (like) a bottle) highlighting the role of aptness in metaphor and simile interpretation. The final chapter presents a theoretical discussion in light of the results obtained in the four studies. In summary, the results suggest metaphors and similes activate a similar set of properties, but that connotative properties might receive increased activation when a metaphor is presented. This additional activation for connotative properties could make metaphors require more processing than similes.

Divisions:Concordia University > Faculty of Arts and Science > Psychology
Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Authors:Roncero, Carlos
Institution:Concordia University
Degree Name:Ph. D.
Date:13 September 2013
Thesis Supervisor(s):de Almeida, Roberto
ID Code:977747
Deposited On:13 Jan 2014 16:13
Last Modified:18 Jan 2018 17:45
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