Stefan Rabanus, Eva Smolka, Judith Streb, Frank Rösler
February 11, 2009
This study investigated whether verbs in figurative language activate different types of associations than do verbs in literal language. In a sentence-priming experiment, we compared idiomatic sentences and literal sentences that comprised the same verb. The German perfect tense is of particular interest here, since the verb (i.e. the past participle) is always cast in sentence-final position. This allowed us to examine associations with the verb immediately after its presentation. We compared response times for associations with the literal meaning of the verb, with the figurative meaning of the phrase, or for unassociated nouns. Even though the idiomatic sentences were highly predictable, our results showed that not only associations with the figurative meaning but also associations with the literal verb meaning were activated. This contrasts with the configuration hypothesis (Cacciari/Tabossi 1988) assuming that literal associations should not be activated in idiomatically biased sentences. We argue that the literal verb meaning is essential in both figurative and non-figurative language and present a model that integrates our findings.