Metaphoric reference: A real-time analysis

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Bilingual Figurative Language Processing


In two experiments, we examine the processing of metaphoric reference, where a metaphoric description (e.g., creampuff) makes reference to an antecedent describing a cowardly boxer during the online comprehension of spoken sentences. We measured activation levels of figurative (e.g., boxer) and literal (e.g., pastry) interpretations of the metaphoric referential description. Experiment 1 measured meaning activation at 0 ms and 1000 ms after the metaphoric referential description. At the metaphoric reference offset, only activation for the nonliteral interpretation was observed. At 1000 ms only activation for the literal interpretation was evidenced. Experiment 2 involved Spanish-English bilinguals immersed in a bilingual community where usage of both languages is a common occurrence. Meaning activation was measured at 0 ms and 300 ms after metaphoric reference offset. Results revealed that bilinguals were much faster to name targets consistent with a figurative interpretation at 300 ms than at 0 ms after prime offset. The same pattern was observed for the literal target interpretation. Implications for theories of bilingual metaphoric language processing are discussed.

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