Principles That Promote Bidirectionality in Verbal Metaphor
Received wisdom holds that there is a basic and intrinsic directionality in metaphor, wherein switching the target and source of a metaphor either leads to a loss of meaning or, if meaningful, is based on different sets of features. Here the authors review experimental literature based on the notion that semantic memory can be conceptualized in a manner similar to Euclidean space, and that properties of this space provide boundary conditions that invite uni- or bidirectionality when concepts are juxtaposed as in metaphor. The authors review three basic components of this space: distance of concepts A and B, varieties of distances (namely, those unique to the concepts themselves and those that are descriptive of higher-order relations), the density of space in which A and B reside, and the nature of such space for concrete and abstract concepts. The authors argue further that metaphor comprehension involves both use of these factors and pragmatic knowledge and that, unfortunately, in the typical psychology experiments, metaphors are presented for processing in impoverished pragmatic conditions. Under these conditions, the main pragmatic knowledge available for use is knowledge available in semantic space (e.g., distance, feature types, concreteness, and density). The authors review and report studies that demonstrate that the information available in semantic space can invite bidirectionality or topic-vehicle asymmetry, and that bidirectionality can be more easily obtained when the metaphors are placed in a discourse context. To date, the influence of semantic density has not been shown in metaphor comprehension, and the authors present the first studies that have examined this variable in metaphor understanding. Future research directions are suggested.
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