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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

Difference wave plots for Experiment 1. Difference waves for metaphorical minus literal condition without (dashed line) and with (solid line) priming. The vertical bar marks the word recognition point of the target. The critical time-window is shaded in gray.
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Figure 4: Difference wave plots for Experiment 1. Difference waves for metaphorical minus literal condition without (dashed line) and with (solid line) priming. The vertical bar marks the word recognition point of the target. The critical time-window is shaded in gray.

Mentions: To see in which direction the literal primes influence the N400 (de- or increasing amplitude-difference), we calculated difference wave plots by subtracting the literal from the metaphorical condition for both experiments (without and with priming) separately (cf. Roehm et al., 2007). This allowed us to filter out differences between the two participant groups and differences arising from the different presentation modalities. Visual inspection of Figure 4 revealed a slightly reduced N400-amplitude difference (between 250 and 500 ms) for the presentation with a literal prime in Experiment 1b. This was supported by statistical analyses (p's < 0.01). The literal prime word therefore has a facilitating effect on language processing (cf. Rolke et al., 2001; Kiefer, 2002; Grossi, 2006). The fact that the N400-amplitude difference in the masked priming conditions is even reduced indicates a greater benefit of the literal prime word in the figurative than in the literal interpretation. Processing the metaphor may profit from the subliminal prime due to pre-activation of the semantic network of the target, which eases the extra operations required. The data suggest that the pre-activation of the literal meaning of the target word within a metaphor does not hamper, but rather facilitates processing.


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

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

Difference wave plots for Experiment 1. Difference waves for metaphorical minus literal condition without (dashed line) and with (solid line) priming. The vertical bar marks the word recognition point of the target. The critical time-window is shaded in gray.
© Copyright Policy - open-access
Related In: Results  -  Collection

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

Figure 4: Difference wave plots for Experiment 1. Difference waves for metaphorical minus literal condition without (dashed line) and with (solid line) priming. The vertical bar marks the word recognition point of the target. The critical time-window is shaded in gray.
Mentions: To see in which direction the literal primes influence the N400 (de- or increasing amplitude-difference), we calculated difference wave plots by subtracting the literal from the metaphorical condition for both experiments (without and with priming) separately (cf. Roehm et al., 2007). This allowed us to filter out differences between the two participant groups and differences arising from the different presentation modalities. Visual inspection of Figure 4 revealed a slightly reduced N400-amplitude difference (between 250 and 500 ms) for the presentation with a literal prime in Experiment 1b. This was supported by statistical analyses (p's < 0.01). The literal prime word therefore has a facilitating effect on language processing (cf. Rolke et al., 2001; Kiefer, 2002; Grossi, 2006). The fact that the N400-amplitude difference in the masked priming conditions is even reduced indicates a greater benefit of the literal prime word in the figurative than in the literal interpretation. Processing the metaphor may profit from the subliminal prime due to pre-activation of the semantic network of the target, which eases the extra operations required. The data suggest that the pre-activation of the literal meaning of the target word within a metaphor does not hamper, but rather facilitates processing.

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