Publication details [#57686]

Horton, William S. 2013. Character Intimacy Influences the Processing of Metaphoric Utterances During Narrative Comprehension. Metaphor and Symbol 28 (3) : 148–166.
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Speakers seem to employ metaphor and other kinds of figurative language as a way of generating and strengthening social confidentiality between themselves and their addressees. When metaphoric utterances turn up in narrative contexts, readers easily suppose a closer relationship (Horton, 2007) between story characters. ). The present work tests whether the relationship implied to exist between characters can influence how readers process metaphoric utterances during narrative comprehension. In two experiments, participants read brief stories that described interactions between two characters portrayed as being familiar with one another to varying degrees. Critical utterances contained either a literal or metaphoric expression that commented on an aspect of the previous story context. In both experiments, readers were as fast to read metaphoric utterances as literal utterances in the context of close, familiar relationships, but were slower to read metaphoric utterances in the context of unfamiliar relationships. Experiment 2 established that this pattern was especially strong for less-conventional metaphors. In general, the level of intimacy established between characters appears to shape the ease with which readers integrate meanings expressed via metaphor into their understanding of the narrative situation.