Publication details [#5116]

Giora, Rachel. 1999. On the priority of salient meanings: Studies of literal and figurative language. Journal of Pragmatics 31 (7) : 919–929. 11 pp.
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Instead of postulating the priority of literal meaning (see e.g., Grice, 1975; Searle, 1979), the present paper adduces evidence in support of the priority of salient meanings (for a similar view see Récanati, 1995). The salient meaning of a word or an expression is its lexicalized meaning, i.e., the meaning retrievable from the mental lexicon rather than from the context (e.g., the literal meaning of novel metaphors but not their intended, nonliteral meaning made available by context, see Giora, 1997). Factors contributing to (degrees of) lexical salience are e.g., conventionality, frequency, and familiarity. Research into the processes involved in comprehension of familiar and novel instances of metaphors, idioms, and irony demonstrates that salient meanings enjoy a privileged status: They are always accessed, and always initially, regardless of context. The findings reported here tie up with previous findings (e.g., Swinney, 1979; Gernsbacher, 1990; Rayner et al., 1994) which argue against the selective access view of context. They show that, contrary to the received view (see Gibbs, 1994, for a review), even rich and supportive contexts which are biased in favor of less salient meanings do not inhibit activation of salient meanings. (Rachel Giora)