Publication details [#5129]

Giora, Rache and Ofer Fein. 1999. On understanding familiar and less-familiar figurative language. Journal of Pragmatics 31 (12) : 1601–1618. 18 pp.
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Findings of three experiments are consistent with the graded salience hypothesis (Giora, 1997), according to which salient meanings should be processed initially before less salient meanings are activated. According to the graded salience hypothesis, processing familiar metaphors (which have at least two salient interpretations - the literal and the metaphoric) should involve activation of both their metaphoric and literal meanings, regardless of the type of context in which they are embedded. Processing less familiar metaphors (which have only one salient meaning - the literal) should activate the literal meaning in both types of contexts; however, in the literally biased context, it should be the only one activated. Processing familiar idioms in a context biased towards the idiomatic meaning should evoke their figurative meaning almost exclusively, because their figurative meaning is much more salient than their literal meaning. However, processing less familiar idioms in an idiomatic context should activate both their literal and idiomatic meanings, because both meanings enjoy similar salience status. In a literally biased context, familiar idioms should evoke their more salient idiomatic meaning to a greater extent than less familiar idioms. A word fragment completion test was used to measure the amount of activation of literal and figurative meanings in both literally and figuratively biased contexts. Findings reveal that, contrary to current beliefs, metaphor interpretation involves processing the literal meaning. They further reveal that metaphor and literal interpretations do not involve equivalent processes. (Adapted from Rachel Giora and Ofer Fein)