Metaphor and mental shortcuts : The role of non-propositional effects

Pragmatics Cognition 28 (2):299-320 (2021)
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Abstract

Cognitive-pragmatic approaches to how metaphors are understood view the activation of perceptual or motor effects as inferred (Steinhart 2001; Bergen 2005; Wilson and Carston 2006; Carston 2010; Gibbs and de Macedo 2010; Wilson and Carston 2019). Crucially, inferences elicit conceptual representations, e.g. in the form of implicatures, and/or mental simulations, e.g. in the form of imagery, memory, an impression and other private elements. Emotional effects, being non-conceptual, must be left out of this picture. But evidence in neurolinguistics and psycholinguistics has shown that metaphors activate brain regions linked to emotions (for a review, see Ifantidou 2019; Citron 2020), and that in L2, in the absence of fully-propositional meaning (due to unknown words), metaphors yield meaningful interpretations by evoking imagery, impressions, emotions (Ifantidou 2019, 2021a, 2021b; Ifantidou and Hatzidaki 2019). Drawing on relevance-theoretic views, we would like to argue that metaphors are processed in not entirely propositional terms. Subjective experience heuristics (originally proposed as “availability heuristic” by Tversky and Kahneman 1974; Schwarzand and Wänke 2002; “affect heuristic” by Zajonc 1980) allows making rapid responses by absorbing emotions, imagery, impressions, into the interpretation process, an ability which outweighs (the need for) standard inferential reasoning processes. Such a position is likely to apply to non-metaphorical language, too and thus pervade linguistic processing in general.

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