Publication details [#6525]

Katz, Albert N. and Todd R. Ferretti. 2001. Moment-by-moment reading of proverbs in literal and nonliteral contexts. Metaphor and Symbol 16 (3-4) : 193–221. 29 pp.
Publication type
Article in journal
Publication language


To date there has been very little research that has examined on-line reading of proverbs. This is surprising given that proverbs offer a unique opportunity to examine how different sources of information combine to constrain the resolution of statements that are ambiguous between a literal and nonliteral interpretation. The purpose of this research was to examine whether context plays an immediate role in constraining the meaning of a proverbial statement, or whether contextual effects come into play at a later stage of processing. Two self-paced moving window studies demonstrated that (a) context influenced resolution of the ambiguous meanings during the act of reading the proverb for both familiar and unfamiliar proverbs; (b) familiar proverbs are read more rapidly than unfamiliar proverbs, an effect that begins to emerge as early as the second word of the trope; and (c) whereas the reading times indicate that ambiguity in comprehension is resolved by the end of the sentence for familiar proverbs, for unfamiliar proverbs effects are still observed into the reading of the next sentence. The results are discussed in relation to existent models of nonliteral language processing, with constraint-based approaches to language processing suggested as a positive alternative. (Albert Katz and Todd Ferretti)