Creativity in Metaphor Interpretation

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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

Professor of Intercultural Communication at the University of East Anglia in Norwich (UK). Norwich Research Park, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK


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