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Cognitive Linguistics

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Moving beyond ‘Next Wednesday’: The interplay of lexical semantics and constructional meaning in an ambiguous metaphoric statement

Michele I. Feist
  • Department of English, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Lafayette, LA, USA
  • :
/ Sarah E. Duffy
  • Department of English Language and Applied Linguistics, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK
  • :
Published Online: 2015-09-10 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cog-2015-0052


What factors influence our understanding of metaphoric statements about time? By examining the interpretation of one such statement – namely, Next Wednesday’s meeting has been moved forward by two days – earlier research has demonstrated that people may draw on spatial perspectives, involving multiple spatially based temporal reference strategies, to interpret metaphoric statements about time (e.g. Boroditsky 2000; Kranjec 2006; McGlone and Harding 1998; Núñez et al. 2006). However, what is still missing is an understanding of the role of linguistic factors in the interpretation of temporal statements such as this one. In this paper, we examine the linguistic properties of this famous temporally ambiguous utterance, considered as an instantiation of a more schematic construction. In Experiment 1, we examine the roles of individual lexical items that are used in the utterance in order to better understand the interplay of lexical semantics and constructional meaning in the context of a metaphoric statement. Following up on prior suggestions in the literature, we ask whether the locus of the ambiguity is centred on the adverb, centred on the verb, or distributed across the utterance. The results suggest that the final interpretation results from an interplay of verb and adverb, suggesting a distributed temporal semantics analogous to the distributed semantics noted for the metaphoric source domain of space (Sinha and Kuteva 1995) and consistent with a constructional view of language (Goldberg 2003). In Experiment 2, we expand the linguistic factors under investigation to include voice and person. The findings suggest that grammatical person, but not grammatical voice, may also influence the interpretation of the Next Wednesday’s meeting metaphor. Taken together, the results of these two studies illuminate the interplay of lexical and constructional factors in the interpretation of temporal metaphors.

Keywords: Moving Time; Moving Ego; metaphor; ambiguity; Construction Grammar; verb; adverb; person; voice; temporal semantics

Received: 2013-11-30

Revised: 2015-05-21

Accepted: 2015-06-10

Published Online: 2015-09-10

Published in Print: 2015-11-01

Citation Information: Cognitive Linguistics. Volume 26, Issue 4, Pages 633–656, ISSN (Online) 1613-3641, ISSN (Print) 0936-5907, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cog-2015-0052, September 2015

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