Beyond Comparison Property Attribution

Sam Glucksberg

in Understanding Figurative Language

Published in print August 2001 | ISBN: 9780195111095
Published online January 2008 | e-ISBN: 9780199872107 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Psychology Series

 Beyond Comparison Property Attribution

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Property attribution is examined in two forms of metaphor — nominal (e.g., lawyers are “sharks”) and predicative (e.g., the dog “flew” across the yard), as well as in compound nouns, such as “feather luggage”. It is argued that topics constrain property attribution by providing dimensions for attribution, e.g., for the topic surgeon, relevant dimensions would include skill, cost, and availability. Vehicles provide candidate properties that could be attributed to the topic, for example, incompetence, as in the metaphor “my surgeon was a butcher”. When a topic has relatively few relevant dimensions for attribution, and a vehicle has relevant and salient properties to be attributed to the topic, then the resulting metaphor is very easy to comprehend, i.e., it is apt. Experimental evidence supports these claims. With respect to compound nouns, they are often interpreted as property attributions rather than simple descriptive modifiers, as in “feather luggage”, to mean luggage that is light, vs. “feather storage” to refer to a place to store feathers. When a head noun can be seen as a topic and the modifying noun as a metaphor vehicle, the compound is given a property attribution. In both metaphors and compound nouns, topics and vehicles thus play different roles.

Keywords: aptness; compound nouns; implicit metaphors; nominal metaphor; predicative metaphor; topic constraints; vehicle constraints

Chapter.  7469 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Cognitive Psychology

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