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The role of literal meaning in figurative language comprehension: evidence from masked priming ERP.

Weiland H, Bambini V, Schumacher PB - Front Hum Neurosci (2014)

Bottom Line: We interpret the findings within a two-phase language architecture where contextual expectations guide initial access (N400) and precede pragmatic adjustment resulting in reconceptualization (Late Positivity).With masked priming, the N400-difference was reduced for metaphors and vanished for metonymies.This combined masked priming ERP paradigm therefore yields new insights into the role of literal meaning in the online composition of figurative language.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Department of English and Linguistics, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz Mainz, Germany.

ABSTRACT
The role of literal meaning during the construction of meaning that goes beyond pure literal composition was investigated by combining cross-modal masked priming and ERPs. This experimental design was chosen to compare two conflicting theoretical positions on this topic. The indirect access account claims that literal aspects are processed first, and additional meaning components are computed only if no satisfactory interpretation is reached. In contrast, the direct access approach argues that figurative aspects can be accessed immediately. We presented metaphors (These lawyers are hyenas, Experiment 1a and 1b) and producer-for-product metonymies (The boy read Böll, Experiment 2a and 2b) with and without a prime word that was semantically relevant to the literal meaning of the target word (furry and talented, respectively). In the presentation without priming, metaphors revealed a biphasic N400-Late Positivity pattern, while metonymies showed an N400 only. We interpret the findings within a two-phase language architecture where contextual expectations guide initial access (N400) and precede pragmatic adjustment resulting in reconceptualization (Late Positivity). With masked priming, the N400-difference was reduced for metaphors and vanished for metonymies. This speaks against the direct access view that predicts a facilitating effect for the literal condition only and hence would predict the N400-difference to increase. The results are more consistent with indirect access accounts that argue for facilitation effects for both conditions and consequently for consistent or even smaller N400-amplitude differences. This combined masked priming ERP paradigm therefore yields new insights into the role of literal meaning in the online composition of figurative language.

No MeSH data available.


Related in: MedlinePlus

Cross-modal masked priming procedure. Schematic illustration of the priming procedure in sentential context.
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Figure 2: Cross-modal masked priming procedure. Schematic illustration of the priming procedure in sentential context.

Mentions: We used a cross-modal masked priming paradigm adopted by Kiyonaga et al. (2007) and verified in Schumacher et al. (2012) in which the targets were part of auditorily presented sentences, as can be seen in Figure 2. Since priming was set as a factor, sentences for Experiment 1a and 2a were presented without primes (but with the forward mask on display) and stimuli for Experiment 1b and 2b with the masking procedure. We now explain the latter in more detail. A fixation asterisk was presented at the beginning of each trial for 500 ms in the center of the monitor. It was followed by the forward mask that consisted of 11 hash marks (#) and the auditory stimulus that started simultaneously. In the condition with priming, the forward mask was replaced by the prime 100 ms before the onset of the auditorily presented target word, hence with 100 ms stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA). The prime was presented for 67 ms and then immediately replaced by the backward mask that consisted of 11 capitalized “X.” Until the end of the auditory stimulus, the backward mask remained on the monitor. The sentence presentation was followed by a 1500 ms long blank screen and then by a question mark. At this point, participants had to perform the first of two tasks, which we employed to control for their attention. This first task (color change detection) controlled for the attention paid to the visual display and additionally was meant to distract the participants from the prime presentation. Participants had to detect a color change in the pattern masks (in 44% of all trials), which lasted for only 100 ms. The color change occurred on the forward mask, at least 1000 ms before the target, to avoid an impact on the recorded critical interval. The first task ended by participants pressing one of two buttons (“Yes” or “No”) with a maximum response latency of 2000 ms. Following another blank screen of 1500 ms, the second task (probe recognition), implemented to force the participants to pay attention to the auditory stimuli, was indicated by a visually presented word. Participants had to determine whether they had heard this word in the preceding sentence or not. The pressing of one of two possible answer buttons terminated the trial that was followed by a 1500 ms long blank screen. After that, the next trial started. The visual stimuli were presented in the middle of the screen in off-white against a black background. The letters were shown in Deja Vu Sans Mono font (34 pt.), in which all letters have the same width.


The role of literal meaning in figurative language comprehension: evidence from masked priming ERP.

Weiland H, Bambini V, Schumacher PB - Front Hum Neurosci (2014)

Cross-modal masked priming procedure. Schematic illustration of the priming procedure in sentential context.
© Copyright Policy - open-access
Related In: Results  -  Collection

License
Show All Figures
getmorefigures.php?uid=PMC4120764&req=5

Figure 2: Cross-modal masked priming procedure. Schematic illustration of the priming procedure in sentential context.
Mentions: We used a cross-modal masked priming paradigm adopted by Kiyonaga et al. (2007) and verified in Schumacher et al. (2012) in which the targets were part of auditorily presented sentences, as can be seen in Figure 2. Since priming was set as a factor, sentences for Experiment 1a and 2a were presented without primes (but with the forward mask on display) and stimuli for Experiment 1b and 2b with the masking procedure. We now explain the latter in more detail. A fixation asterisk was presented at the beginning of each trial for 500 ms in the center of the monitor. It was followed by the forward mask that consisted of 11 hash marks (#) and the auditory stimulus that started simultaneously. In the condition with priming, the forward mask was replaced by the prime 100 ms before the onset of the auditorily presented target word, hence with 100 ms stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA). The prime was presented for 67 ms and then immediately replaced by the backward mask that consisted of 11 capitalized “X.” Until the end of the auditory stimulus, the backward mask remained on the monitor. The sentence presentation was followed by a 1500 ms long blank screen and then by a question mark. At this point, participants had to perform the first of two tasks, which we employed to control for their attention. This first task (color change detection) controlled for the attention paid to the visual display and additionally was meant to distract the participants from the prime presentation. Participants had to detect a color change in the pattern masks (in 44% of all trials), which lasted for only 100 ms. The color change occurred on the forward mask, at least 1000 ms before the target, to avoid an impact on the recorded critical interval. The first task ended by participants pressing one of two buttons (“Yes” or “No”) with a maximum response latency of 2000 ms. Following another blank screen of 1500 ms, the second task (probe recognition), implemented to force the participants to pay attention to the auditory stimuli, was indicated by a visually presented word. Participants had to determine whether they had heard this word in the preceding sentence or not. The pressing of one of two possible answer buttons terminated the trial that was followed by a 1500 ms long blank screen. After that, the next trial started. The visual stimuli were presented in the middle of the screen in off-white against a black background. The letters were shown in Deja Vu Sans Mono font (34 pt.), in which all letters have the same width.

Bottom Line: We interpret the findings within a two-phase language architecture where contextual expectations guide initial access (N400) and precede pragmatic adjustment resulting in reconceptualization (Late Positivity).With masked priming, the N400-difference was reduced for metaphors and vanished for metonymies.This combined masked priming ERP paradigm therefore yields new insights into the role of literal meaning in the online composition of figurative language.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Department of English and Linguistics, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz Mainz, Germany.

ABSTRACT
The role of literal meaning during the construction of meaning that goes beyond pure literal composition was investigated by combining cross-modal masked priming and ERPs. This experimental design was chosen to compare two conflicting theoretical positions on this topic. The indirect access account claims that literal aspects are processed first, and additional meaning components are computed only if no satisfactory interpretation is reached. In contrast, the direct access approach argues that figurative aspects can be accessed immediately. We presented metaphors (These lawyers are hyenas, Experiment 1a and 1b) and producer-for-product metonymies (The boy read Böll, Experiment 2a and 2b) with and without a prime word that was semantically relevant to the literal meaning of the target word (furry and talented, respectively). In the presentation without priming, metaphors revealed a biphasic N400-Late Positivity pattern, while metonymies showed an N400 only. We interpret the findings within a two-phase language architecture where contextual expectations guide initial access (N400) and precede pragmatic adjustment resulting in reconceptualization (Late Positivity). With masked priming, the N400-difference was reduced for metaphors and vanished for metonymies. This speaks against the direct access view that predicts a facilitating effect for the literal condition only and hence would predict the N400-difference to increase. The results are more consistent with indirect access accounts that argue for facilitation effects for both conditions and consequently for consistent or even smaller N400-amplitude differences. This combined masked priming ERP paradigm therefore yields new insights into the role of literal meaning in the online composition of figurative language.

No MeSH data available.


Related in: MedlinePlus