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Open Access Published by De Gruyter Mouton October 4, 2011

Inferring Pragmatic Messages from Metaphor

  • Raymond Gibbs , Markus Tendahl and Lacey Okonski
From the journal Lodz Papers in Pragmatics

Inferring Pragmatic Messages from Metaphor

When speakers utter metaphors, such as "Lawyers are also sharks," they often intend to communicate messages beyond those expressed by the metaphorical meaning of these expressions. For instance, in some circumstances, a speaker may state "Lawyers are also sharks" to strengthen a previous speaker's negative beliefs about lawyers, to add new information about lawyers to listeners to some context, or even to contradict a previous speaker's positive assertions about lawyers. In each case, speaking metaphorically communicates one of these three social messages that are relevant to the ongoing discourse. At the same time, speaking metaphorically may express other social and affective information that is more difficult to convey using non-metaphorical speech, such as "Lawyers are also aggressive." We report the results of three experiments demonstrating that people infer different pragmatic messages from metaphors in varying social situations and that many metaphors can express additional pragmatic and rhetorical meanings beyond those conveyed by non-metaphorical language. These findings demonstrate the importance of trade-offs between cognitive effort and cognitive effects in pragmatic theories of metaphor use and understanding.


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Published Online: 2011-10-4
Published in Print: 2011-1-1

This content is open access.

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