Literary Metaphor Comprehension and Production: A Unified View

Literary Metaphor Comprehension and Production: A Unified View

Akira Utsumi (The University of Electro-Communications, Japan)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-4775-4.ch010


This chapter addresses literary metaphors, which are used in literary works to enrich the meanings and evoke aesthetic effects. The aim of this chapter is to provide a unified view that can explain how literary metaphors are understood and generated. The chapter authors argue that comprehension of various types of literary metaphors involves a process of direct or indirect categorization by integrating and extending existing metaphor theories and empirical findings, in particular the author's metaphor research such as the interpretive diversity theory of nominal metaphors and the indirect categorization theory of predicative metaphors. The chapter authors also apply the unified view of literary metaphor comprehension to metaphor production, and discuss how people generate literary metaphors.
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Metaphor is one of the most important rhetorical devices that enrich narrative discourse or literary work. This chapter particularly focuses on literary metaphors, which are primarily used for evoking aesthetic or poetic effects on readers/hearers, rather than explanatory metaphors used for clarifying what writers/speakers want to convey. In his “Rhetoric,” for example, Aristotle listed three functions of metaphors by stating that “metaphor especially has clarity and sweetness and strangeness.” Literary metaphors are associated with sweetness and strangeness, while explanatory metaphors are associated with clarity.

Literary metaphors often convey a variety of meanings. For example, consider a famous literary metaphor in Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and Juliet.”

  • (1)

    But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun!

The metaphor “Juliet is the sun” in (1) can express a variety of meanings such as that Juliet appears above Romeo, bringing him hope and gladness, and he cannot live without her. These rich meanings cannot be conveyed effectively by literal language. More importantly, if these meanings are literally expressed, his words lose aesthetic or poetic effects on the audience. Existing empirical findings support the richness of interpretation as the characteristic feature of literary or poetic metaphors. Utsumi (2005) demonstrated that poeticality rating of metaphors was positively correlated with the richness of interpretation (or interpretive diversity) and richer interpretations of metaphors involved more emergent meanings. Roncero & de Almeida (2015) reported that interpretive diversity was negatively correlated with metaphor conventionality. These findings suggest that literary metaphors tend to be novel or creative in nature.

The question that arises here is how literary metaphors are processed. This chapter addresses this question, and provides a unified view of literary metaphor comprehension and production by reference to the author’s previous studies on metaphors. The central argument of the unified view is that literary metaphor comprehension and production can be explained as categorization, the process by which distinct entities are treated as equivalent. In the rest of this chapter, how categorization is essentially involved in metaphor comprehension and production will be described in detail.

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