Publication details [#19624534]

Ji, Haojie, Senqing Qi, Shiyang Xu, Jinxin Chen and David Yun Dai. 2020. The role of animacy in metaphor processing of Mandarin Chinese: An Event-Related Potential (ERP) study. Journal of Neurolinguistics 56 (100915) : 100915–100915.
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Many ERP studies have highlighted processing difficulty for animacy violation in language, more so than non-violated sentences. However, all of these findings were for non-figurative language, and studies have rarely looked at the figurative language, such as metaphors involving animacy violation, which could be integrated to make novel and acceptable meaning. The present study aimed at assessing the role of animacy in metaphorical comprehension of Mandarin Chinese. ERPs were recorded as healthy participants read metaphor or literal sentences with animate or inanimate actors as sentence-initial noun, while the target words were measured at the verb and the second argument (object) of the sentences with subject-verb-object (SVO) structure. As expected, the animacy violations elicited a significant N400 effect by the target verb in the metaphor with inanimate initial-nouns. At the objects, the N400 amplitudes associated with metaphors were not regulated by animacy. Subsequently, the analysis revealed a significant difference in the P600 amplitudes between inanimate and animate metaphorical conditions. The metaphors with inanimate actor elicited an attenuated P600 as compared with the animate counterparts and converged to the same level as literal sentences, reflecting the less effortful metaphor-relevant mapping process. These results suggest that animacy violation may facilitate the integration of the reanalysis stage for metaphorical comprehension, and the conflict strength (animacy violation vs. no animacy violation) modulates the time course of metaphor processing in Mandarin Chinese. The present study yields new insights into the role of animacy in the online linguistic comprehension.