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Congruent and incongruent metaphorical sentences processing in discourse:
A reaction time study
Shu-Ping Gong and Kathleen Ahrens
Graduate Institute of Linguistics
National Taiwan University
This study investigates the role of conceptual mappings in metaphor interpretation in discourse. In particular, we examine whether conventional metaphors that share congruent conceptual mappings with the prior context have significantly higher appropriateness rating scores and reading times as compared to ones that don't have consistent conceptual mappings with the prior context. In addition, novel metaphors are tested to see whether they have the slowest reading time and the lowest rating scores for appropriateness because of their level of novelity.
We found a metaphorical congruency effect in an off-line rating task but a lack of the congruency effect in an on-line reading task. Our results are consistent with the English
metaphorical idiom studies as Nayak and Gibb's (1990) off-line rating study, as well as Glucksberg et al's (1993) on-line reading study. Our study suggests that conceptual mappings are activated when subjects are asked to rate the appropriateness of a final sentence in discourse, but not when they are simply asked to read.
Keywords: Conventional metaphors, conceptual mappings, novel metaphors, metaphorical congruency effect
In recent decades, conceptual metaphors have been intensively examined in the literature (Coulson 1996, Fauconier & Turner 1998, Grady, Taub & Morgan 1996, Kovecses 1986, Lakoff 1993, Lakoff & Johnson 1980, Shen & Balaban 1999, Sweetser 1990). From a processing perspective, researchers’ attempts to investigate how metaphors are interpreted
have led to two different approaches -- the conceptual metaphor view (Ahrens 2002, Coulson & VanPetten 2002, Nayak & Gibbs 1990) and the attributive categorization view (Glucksberg et al. 1997, Keyar et al. 2000, McGlone 1996). The conceptual metaphor view proposes that metaphors are instantiations of conceptual mappings that are understood via
mapping source/concrete domains to target/abstract domains. On the other hand, the attributive categorization view proposes that people don't rely on conceptual mappings to interpret metaphors. Instead, metaphors are comprehended via class-inclusion assertions, in which a topic is assigned to a category (i.e. a property). However, the question of which account better explains how metaphors are understood is still controversial. The conceptual metaphor view proposes that conceptual mappings play a role in metaphor understanding in discourse. This view predicts that metaphorical expressions with congruent (i.e. consistent) mappings to the prior context are interpreted more easily and effortlessly than ones with incongruent (i.e. inconsistent) mappings to the prior context. Several idiom (Nayak & Gibbs 1990, Gibbs 1994) and metaphors (Allbritton et al 1995, Kemper 1989) studies have shown evidence for the congruency effect in discourse in off-line rating and on-line priming and reading experiments. However, the attributive categorization approach does not predict a metaphorical congruent effect in discourse. Evidence is the lack of the congruency effect in RTs and ratings comparing congruent and incongruent metaphors (Glucksberg, Brown, & McGlone 1993, Keysar & Bly 1999, Keysal et al 2000, McGlone 1996).
The Nayak & Gibbs (1990) idiom study showed evidence that conceptual mappings affect idiom interpretation in discourse. For example, when a person was described as "fuming", this expression seemed to be consistent with "blew one's top". Both of the expressions are related to the instantiation of the metaphor ANGER IS HEAT IN A PRESSURIZED CONTAINER. Nayak and Gibbs' (1990) ran an off-line appropriateness rating task and examined the metaphorical congruency effect in idiom comprehension. They wanted to see whether people unconsciously made reference to conceptual mappings in idioms interpretations when contexts were biased. Subjects were presented with short scenarios as shown in (1) and (2) and rated how appropriate the target sentence was to their
corresponding prior context on a 1-7 scale.
(1) ANGER IS A FEROCIOUS ANIMAL
Mrs. Simmons is a bear about cleanliness. Her house is always sparkling clean.
She's always prowling around the house with a duster in her hand. She attacks
every spot of dust like a personal enemy. It's not easy on her kids. She watches
them like a hawk to see whether they make a mess. The moment they become a
little careless, she
a. bites their heads off (metaphorical congruence)
b. blows her top (metaphorical incongruence)
(2) ANGER IS HEAT IN A PRESSURIZED CONTAINER
Mrs. Simmons is a stickler for cleanliness. She is always very tense when she is
cleaning her house. It makes her fume when her family does not cooperate. She
gets hot every time she finds another dusty spot. The pressure really builds up
when she is cleaning her kids' rooms. Her tolerance of their untidiness really
reaches its limits. And when they walk in carelessly with muddy feet, she
a. blows her top (metaphorical congruence)
b. bites their heads off (metaphorical incongruence)
In Example (1), the results showed that the first idiom "bites their heads off" was rated
significantly more appropriate than the idiom "blows her top". The two idioms were
instantiations of two different conceptual metaphors. The first idiom "bite their heads off"
was an instantiation of ANGER IS A FEROCIOUS ANIMAL, and the second "blow her top" was an instantiation of ANGER IS HEAT IN A PRESSURIZED CONTAINER. With the lexical cues from the scenario such as "bear", "prowling", "attack", and "hawk", readers may unconsciously refer to the conceptual metaphor ANGER IS A FEROCIOUS ANIMAL and rate the idiom "bite his head off" more appropriate since it shares the congruent conceptual metaphor ANGER IS A FEROCIOUS ANIMAL with the prior context. The idiom "blow her top" was rated less appropriate since its underlying conceptual metaphor was different from the prior context.
However, when given the scenario in Example (2), people rated the idiom "blows her top" significantly more appropriately than the idiom "bits their heads off". Readers may
make reference to the conceptual metaphor ANGER IS HEAT IN A PRESSURIZED CONTAINER with the help of lexical cues such as "tense", "fume", "pressure builds up", and "reach its limits" Thus, when they rated these two idioms, "blows her top" was more
appropriate than "bites their heads off" since the former was an instantiation of the
congruent metaphor. They concluded that the appropriate congruency effect in discourse was evidence for conceptual mappings being used and accessible in idiom interpretation. 2
In contrast, Glucksberg, Brown, and McGlone's (1993) idiom study supports the attributive categorization approach. They didn't find the congruency effect occurring in an on-line reading task when they re-ran Nayak and Gibbs' (1990) study. Their experimental
results showed that reading time for the congruent condition was not significantly different from the incongruent condition, which they interpreted to mean that conceptual mappings did not underlie metaphor interpretation.
These previous studies have focused almost exclusively on idiomatic expressions. However, understanding idioms may not require the use of conceptual mappings because
they are already fixed lexical expressions. However, we hypothesize interpreting conventional expressions such as "He is known for his many rapid conquests" entails the use of the mappings of LOVE IS WAR. In addition, there is currently little research at a discourse level concerning the reaction time in comprehending metaphorical sentences in Mandarin Chinese. In this study, we investigate which metaphor approach, i.e. the conceptual metaphor view or the attributive categorization view, better explains Mandarin conceptual metaphor understanding in discourse. In particular, we would like to know what role conceptual mappings play in metaphor interpretation in discourse. If we find the metaphorical congruency effect exists in Mandarin metaphor discourse when metaphorically congruent metaphors are compared with incongruent and novel metaphors in both the on-line and off-line task, the conceptual metaphor approach will be supported. If we find a lack of the congruency effect in both tasks, the attributive categorization view will be supported.
Experiment 1: Off-line Appropriateness Rating Task
We hypothesize that conceptual mappings can motivate Mandarin conceptual metaphor interpretation in discourse. In this experiment, the metaphorical congruency effect in discourse is expected in this off-line rating task. Therefore, we predict that metaphorically incongruent metaphors have significantly lower rating scores for appropriateness as compared with congruent ones.
Twenty-one subjects participated in this off-line appropriateness task. All of them were the undergraduate students of National Taiwan University and were native speakers of Mandarin.
Stimuli and Design
Two conditions were looked at in this off-line task: (1) the metaphorically congruent 3
condition and (2) the metaphorically incongruent condition. Both of the conditions were the conventional metaphors. However, their difference is in the mapping congruency between
contexts and targets. That is, the metaphorically congruent metaphors were materials in which the prior context shared consistent conceptual mappings with its terminal target metaphorical expression; the metaphorically incongruent metaphors were materials in which the prior context shared inconsistent conceptual mappings with its correspondent terminal expression.
Thirty sets of materials were created. An example is given in (3). In this scenario, the underlying conceptual metaphor is BRAIN IS MACHINE. The target domain BRAIN is conceptually mapped to the domain MACHINE. The mapping is linguistically realized via four lexical items: ;密 jing-mi "delicate", 機器 ji-qi "machine", 生鏽 sheng-xiu "to
rust", and 運轉 yun-zhuan "function". Two conditions were designed in the terminal
sentences. The lexical word 故障 gu-zhang "break down" in the metaphorically congruent
condition reflects the metaphor IDEA IS BUILDING which is consistent with the previous context. On the other hand, the lexical word 衰退 shuai-tui "to degenerate" in the
metaphorically incongruent condition reflects the metaphor BRAIN IS MACHINE, which is inconsistent with the previous context.
(3) BRAIN IS MACHINE
Our brain is a delicate machine. If it is not used for a long time, it will rust. Therefore, we
have to often brainstorm, so that our brain can operate smoothly.
The more we use our brain, the more our brain won't break down.
The more we use our brain, the more our brain does not degenerate.
The length for the paired terminal sentences was controlled. The average length was
23.7 characters (SD = 5.6), ranging between 15 and 36 characters.
In order to control the acceptability level of the paired terminal sentences, our sixty stimuli were pre-tested in an acceptability rating task. The congruent and incongruent paired sentences were rotated and distributed between two lists. Forty undergraduate students 4
(twenty subjects for each list) were instructed to rate thirty terminal sentences with an equal number of fillers as "very acceptable" or as "not acceptable" on a scale of 1 (low acceptability) to 7 (high acceptability). Ratings from thirty-six subjects were computed (four subject data were removed because of missing data in their questionnaire). The results
showed that the congruent metaphors and the incongruent ones had average ratings of 6.17 (SD = 1.26) and 6.11 (SD =1.33), respectively. A t-test showed that the congruent metaphors did not have significantly higher rating scores than the incongruent ones (t (1078) = 1.27, p
In this off-line appropriateness rating task, sixty materials were rotated among four lists. Each list contained fifteen contexts with target sentences randomly ordered. In each list, half the stimuli were congruent metaphors and half the stimuli were incongruent ones. Subjects only saw each set of stimuli once.
Twenty-one subjects were randomly assigned to one of the four lists. Subjects were instructed to read each sentence carefully and judge whether the terminal metaphorical sentence was appropriate or not to the whole given context on a 1-7 point scale. The 1 point referred to ？適當 bu-shi-dang "inappropriate" and the 7 points referred to 很適當
hen-shi-dang "appropriate". After reading each paragraph carefully, subjects circled their
rating directly in the questionnaire list. The task took approximately 15 minutes. Results & Discussion
In order to balance the number in each list, one subject was removed. Data from