Publication details [#2558]

Biava, Christina M. 1991. Comprehension and recall of figurative language by nonnative speakers of English. Urbana, Ill.. 173 pp.


This study attempted to extend some of the findings in figurative language research over the past 10-15 years to a population not often tested in this area before, nonnative speakers of English. Most metaphor researchers in psycholinguistics have come to believe that nonliteral language is a vital component of language, not a "special" part that is acquired only after literal language has been acquired or that requires a different type of processing than literal language. The few studies done on nonnative speakers, on the other hand, concluded that figurative language was harder for these speakers, an aspect of the L2 that was to be avoided. This study tested 124 international students in two intensive English programs in the spring of 1991. The study included two parts, a multiple-choice test of comprehension and a cued recall task. The three hypotheses that were tested in this study - that comprehension of literal and figurative items would be equal, that comprehension of metaphor and simile items would be equal, and that recall of literal and figurative items would be equal - were all supported, using ANOVA procedures. In the comprehension results, there was no statistically significant difference between literal and figurative items and metaphor and simile items. This held true, regardless of cultural background or English language proficiency. The third hypothesis was also supported in that figurative recall was not only as good as literal recall, but significantly better than it. Thus, the results of this study, while supporting a decade of findings in psycholinguistic research on metaphor, make a somewhat counterclaim for second language researchers. However, it must be stressed that the handful of figurative language studies using nonnative speakers are not exactly comparable. Many of those studies used highly conventionalized figurative language, such as idioms, while this study used novel metaphors. Also, most of those studies investigated production while comprehension and recall were the subject of the present study. (Dissertation Abstracts)