Mayn, Alexandra; Demberg, Vera

Pragmatics of Metaphor Revisited: Modeling the Role of Degree and Salience in Metaphor Understanding

Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, 43(43), CogSci2022, pp. 3178ff., 2022.

Experimental pragmatics tells us that a metaphor conveys salient features of a vehicle and that highly typical featurestend to be salient. But can highly atypical features also be salient? When asking if John is loyal and hearing “John is afox”, will the hearer conclude that John is disloyal because loyalty is saliently atypical for a fox? This prediction followsfrom our RSA-based model of metaphor understanding which relies on gradient salience. Our behavioral experimentscorroborate the model’s predictions, providing evidence that high and low typicality are salient and result in high in-terpretation confidence and agreement, while average typicality is not salient and makes a metaphor confusing. Ourmodel implements the idea that other features of a vehicle, along with possible alternative vehicles, influence metaphorinterpretation. It produces a significantly better fit compared to an existing RSA model of metaphor understanding,supporting our predictions about the factors at play.