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It is not always a matter of time: Addressing the costs of metaphor and metonymy through a speed-accuracy trade-off study

Bambini, Valentina, Bott, Lewis and Schumacher, Petra B. 2021. It is not always a matter of time: Addressing the costs of metaphor and metonymy through a speed-accuracy trade-off study. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology 75 (2) , pp. 189-196.

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One of the most debated topics in figurative language studies is whether the access to non-literal meanings is direct or indirect. Although models that argue for longer processing times for figurative compared to literal meanings have been largely criticized, figurative language is often associated with increased cognitive work. We investigated whether such greater cognitive work is indicative of more time-consuming processes or rather lower availability of figurative meanings, and whether there are differences between figurative types. We used a multi-response Speed-Accuracy Trade-off paradigm, where a meaningfulness judgment task was combined with a response deadline procedure to estimate speed and accuracy independently for metaphorical (Those dancers are butterflies) and metonymic sentences (That student reads Camilleri), compared with literal equivalents. While both metaphors and metonymies showed lower asymptote, that is, they were judged less accurately than literal counterparts, only metonymies were associated with a processing delay. Moreover, the difference in asymptote with respect to the literal condition was greater for metaphor than for metonymy. These findings indicate that the process that derives metaphor and metonymy is more complex than the process that derives literal meanings, even more so for metaphor. The processing delay, however, is present only in the case of metonymies. Taken together, our study offers key findings that reconcile a lively debate on the time course of figurative language comprehension, showing that the cost of non-literal meaning is not always a matter of time, and depends also on the figurative type.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Psychology
Publisher: Canadian Psychological Association
ISSN: 1196-1961
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 23 June 2021
Date of Acceptance: 4 February 2021
Last Modified: 07 Oct 2021 01:12

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