Conventional Language: How Metaphorical Is It?

Boaz Keysar*, Yeshayahu Shen, Sam Glucksberg, William S. Horton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Scopus citations


We evaluate a fundamental assumption of Lakoff and Johnson's (1980a, 1980b) view that people routinely use conceptual mappings to understand conventional expressions in ordinary discourse. Lakoff and Johnson argue that people rely on mappings such as ARGUMENT IS WAR in understanding expressions such as his criticism was right on target. We propose that people need not rely on conceptual mappings for conventional expressions, although such mappings may be used to understand nonconventional expressions. Three experiments support this claim. Experiments 1 and 2 used a reading-time measure and found no evidence that readers used conceptual mappings to understand conventional expressions. In contrast, the experiments did reveal the use of such mappings with nonconventional expressions. A third experiment ruled out lexical or semantic priming as an explanation for the results. Our findings call into question Lakoff and Johnson's central claim about the relationship between conventional expressions and conceptual mappings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)576-593
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2000


  • Metaphor comprehension; conceptual mapping; conventional language

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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