Creativity in Metaphor Interpretation

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Abstract


This paper looks at corpus- and survey-based evidence of innovative interpretative metaphor use that changes the default meaning of well-established figurative constructions. Specifically, we look at interpretation-induced changes in the meaning of corporeal metaphors, on the basis of a corpus of British political discourse and a questionnaire survey of more than 1000 respondents from 31 linguistic backgrounds in 10 countries. The corpus-based evidence consists of metaphor-production data that show how situational variation in metaphor use can over time create a semantic-pragmatic drift that changes the dominant meaning of a conventional metaphor expression. The questionnaire survey reveals four distinct models for body-focused readings (i.e. nation as geobody, as hierarchical functional whole, as part of speaker’s body, as part of larger body), plus a further set person-focused readings. The two most frequent body-focused interpretations, i.e. nation as geobody and nation as hierarchical functional whole, as well as the person-stereotypes versions show divergent frequency and elaboration patterns across the Chinese- vs. English-L1 respondent groups, which may be linked to specific cultural conceptual and discursive traditions. Both data sets indicate a strong creative element in metaphor interpretation, which accounts for a significant degree of variation in the creation of new metaphorical concepts.

About the authors

Andreas Musolff

University of East Anglia

Email: A.Musolff@uea.ac.uk
Norwich Research Park, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK
Professor of Intercultural Communication at the University of East Anglia in Norwich (UK).

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