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Using semantic feature norms to investigate how the visual and verbal modes afford metaphor construction and expression*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 October 2016

University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands


In this study, two modalities of expression (verbal and visual) are compared and contrasted, in relation to their ability and their limitations to construct and express metaphors. A representative set of visual metaphors and a representative set of linguistic metaphors are here compared, and the semantic similarity between metaphor terms is modeled within the two sets. Such similarity is operationalized in terms of semantic features produced by informants in a property generation task (e.g., McRae et al., 2005). Semantic features provide insights into conceptual content, and play a role in deep conceptual processing, as opposed to shallow linguistic processing. Thus, semantic features appear to be useful for modeling metaphor comprehension, assuming that metaphors are matters of thought rather than simple figures of speech (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980). The question tackled in this paper is whether semantic features can account for the similarity between metaphor terms of both visual and verbal metaphors. For this purpose, a database of semantic features was collected and then used to analyze fifty visual metaphors and fifty verbal metaphors. It was found that the number of semantic features shared between metaphor terms is predicted by the modality of expression of the metaphor: the terms compared in visual metaphors share semantic features, while the terms compared in verbal metaphors do not. This suggests that the two modalities of expression afford different ways to construct and express metaphors.

Research Article
Copyright © UK Cognitive Linguistics Association 2016 

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