‘Simple as a fire’: Making sense of the non-standard poetic simile

Roi Tartakovsky 1  and Yeshayahu Shen 2
  • 1 The Department of English and American Studies, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel
  • 2 The Department of Literature and the Program of Cognitive Study of Language and Its Use, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel
Roi Tartakovsky
  • Corresponding author
  • The Department of English and American Studies, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel
  • Email
  • Search for other articles:
  • degruyter.comGoogle Scholar
and Yeshayahu Shen
  • The Department of Literature and the Program of Cognitive Study of Language and Its Use, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel
  • Email
  • Search for other articles:
  • degruyter.comGoogle Scholar

Abstract

Our topic is an under-theorized type of closed simile in which the ground represents a non-salient feature of the source term (e.g., as quiet as a weight, as opposed to a standard simile, e.g., as heavy as a weight). The non-standard simile introduces a semantic difficulty, a result of the unexpected mismatch between ground and source. Since they are highly prevalent in poetic texts there is special interest in investigating the ways subjects attempt to comprehend such similes. To that end, we have asked 62 subjects to interpret pairs of similes distinguished only by the salience of the ground. We identify 5 response types and find that these are unevenly distributed across the two simile types (standard and non-standard). The structural difference between the two kinds of similes, therefore, evokes different interpretational strategies. Additionally, we find that the non-standard simile entails a hit-or-miss potentiality, creating conditions for either an insightful interpretation or a rejection of any possibility of its coherent comprehension.

  • Chestnut, Eleanor & Ellen Markham. 2016. Are horses like zebras, or vice versa? Children’s sensitivity to the asymmetries of directional comparisons. Child Dev 87. 568–582.

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Export Citation
  • Fishelov, David. 2007. Shall I compare thee? Simile understanding and semantic categories. J Lit Semant 36. 70–87.

  • Israel, Michael, Jennifer Riddle Harding & Vera Tobin. 2004. On simile. In Michel Achard & Suzanne Kemmer (eds.), Language, culture and mind, 123–135. Stanford: CSLI.

  • Lee, Li-Young. 2005. Persimmons. In Margaret Ferguson, Mary Jo Salter & Jon Stallworthy (eds.), Norton anthology of poetry, 5th edn., 2011–2013. New York: Norton.

  • Mack, Dorothy. 1975. Metaphoring as speech act: Some happiness conditions for implicit and simple metaphors. Poetics 4. 221–256.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Mohd Kasim, Zalina. 2013. Are poetic similes cognitively constrained? A case of Malay poetic similes. Pertanika J Soc Sci Hum 21. 87–102.

  • Moon, Rosamund. 2011. Simile and dissimilarity. J Lit Semant 40. 133–157.

  • Ortony, Andrew. 1979. Beyond literal similarity. Psychol Rev 86/3. 161–180.

  • Ortony, Andrew, Richard J. Vondruska, Mark A. Foss & Lawrence E. Jones. 1985. Salience, similes and the asymmetry of similarity. J Mem Lang 24. 569–594.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Rosch, Eleanor. 1975. Cognitive reference points. Cogn Psychol 7. 532–547.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Shen, Yeshayahu. 1995. Cognitive constraints on directionality in the semantic structure of poetic vs. non-poetic metaphors. Poetics 23. 255–274.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Tartakovsky, Roi & Yeshayahu Shen. In preparation. Meek as milk and large as logic: A corpus study of the non-standard poetic simile.

  • Yeats, William Butler. 2005. No Second Troy. In Margaret Ferguson, Mary Jo Salter & Jon Stallworthy (eds.), Norton anthology of poetry, 5th edn., 1192. New York: Norton.

Purchase article
Get instant unlimited access to the article.
$42.00
Log in
Already have access? Please log in.


or
Log in with your institution

Journal + Issues

The Journal of Literary Semantics has pioneered and encouraged research into the relations between linguistics and literature. Widely read by theoretical and applied linguists, narratologists, poeticians, philosophers and psycholinguists, the journal publishes articles of a philosophical or theoretical nature that attempt to advance our understanding of the structures, dynamics, and significations of literary texts.

Search