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Awareness in metaphor understanding: ‘The Lingering of the Literal’

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This paper argues that a cognitive account of metaphor comprehension needs to include awareness of metaphoricity in order to fully explain the processes involved. In Relevance Theory as well as in other cognitively oriented approaches, much can be gained by making explicit the difference between conscious and subconscious processing: whether a communicator is aware of an expression’s metaphoricity or not may have an impact on the type of cognitive processing involved. A theoretical investigation is offered which explores the potential role of reflective reasoning in metaphor understanding. The discussion is based on the relevance-theoretic account, which explains the subconscious inferential processes involved. However, it leaves open the question of the potential impact of conscious availability of the tension between literal and figurative meaning, which is reminiscent of domain mappings in Cognitive Linguistics. Within metaphor research, a focus on awareness offers valuable findings for cognitively oriented schools of thought.

Keywords: Relevance Theory; conscious/subconscious processing; literal meaning; metaphor awareness

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2011-01-01

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