9th Dec 2009 4:30pm-6:00pm
Sallis Benney Theatre
Professor Robyn Carston from the University College London will give a talk entitled Metaphor, Simile and Metarepresentation on Wednesday 9th December 2009 at 16.30 in the Checkland Building, Room B407, University of Brighton Faculty of Arts, Falmer Campus.
This talk looks at two issues concerning the interpretation of metaphors and corresponding similes. First, according to current Relevance Theory, the understanding of metaphorical uses (e.g. ‘John is a robot’) is taken to involve a pragmatic process of adjustment of the lexically encoded meaning, resulting in an ad hoc concept (e.g. robot*) which contributes to the primary speaker meaning (that is, to the proposition directly communicated). Corresponding similes (e.g. ‘John is like a robot’), on the other hand, are claimed to be understood literally, so they do not express a proposition containing such an ad hoc concept. Second, it has been suggested that understanding metaphorically used language requires a higher-level metarepresentational capacity which is not required in the understanding of literally-used language, including similes.
Given the obvious similarities in the interpretive outcomes of these two tropes (e.g. John lacks spontaneity, John is literal-minded, etc.), the worry is that the two claims above make for too great a difference in the accounts of the two tropes. The position I will try to defend is as follows: (i) Spontaneous, conversational metaphors and similes, such as the examples above, do differ with regard to the role of ad hoc concepts in their comprehension; (ii) There is no reason to suppose that cases of this sort require any metarepresentational capacity beyond that involved in ostensive communication quite generally; (iii) However, there are certain kinds of (extended, developed) metaphors for which the ad hoc concept account does not work and, for these cases and for their corresponding similes, a distinctive kind of metarepresentational processing is required.