Speakers appear to use metaphor and other types of figurative language as a means to create and reinforce social intimacy between themselves and their addressees. Additionally, when metaphoric utterances appear in narrative contexts, readers readily judge story characters as having a closer relationship (Horton, 2007). The present work tests whether the relationship implied to exist between characters can influence how readers process metaphoric utterances during narrative comprehension. In two experiments, participants read brief stories that described interactions between two characters portrayed as being familiar with one another to varying degrees. Critical utterances contained either a literal or metaphoric expression that commented on an aspect of the previous story context. In both experiments, readers were as fast to read metaphoric utterances as literal utterances in the context of close, familiar relationships, but were slower to read metaphoric utterances in the context of unfamiliar relationships. Experiment 2 established that this pattern was especially strong for less-conventional metaphors. In general, the level of intimacy established between characters appears to shape the ease with which readers integrate meanings expressed via metaphor into their understanding of the narrative situation.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Linguistics and Language