Author(s): Searle JR


ERPs were recorded while subjects were reading short familiar metaphors (e.g., Those fighters are lions), unfamiliar metaphors (Those apprentices are lions), or literal control sentences (Those animals are lions) presented in isolation or preceded by either an irrelevant or relevant context (e.g., They are not idiotic: . . . .” vs. “They are not cowardly: Those fighters are lions”). The terminal word of metaphors elicited larger N400 components than did the terminal word of literal sentences (Experiment 1) suggesting that the (incongruous) literal meaning of metaphors was indeed accessed at some point during comprehension. The analysis of the 600–1000 and 1000–1400 latency bands (Late Positive Components) revealed no significant difference between metaphors and literal sentences. The manipulation of metaphor difficulty (Experiments 2 and 3) also failed to reveal any late effect specifically linked to metaphorical processing. Finally, an effect of the preceding sentence context was found in Experiments 3 and 4, as early as 300 ms following the terminal word onset. Overall, these results support a context-dependent account of metaphor comprehension stating that when contextually relevant, the metaphorical meaning is the only one accessed.

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