University of Illinois at Chicago
CAMPBELL-DISSERTATION-2017.pdf (729.99 kB)

Are Figurative Tropes Unique? An Eye Tracking Comparison of Metaphors, Similes, and Idioms

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posted on 2018-02-08, 00:00 authored by Spencer Campbell
Many models of figurative language processing have been proposed that emphasize the uniqueness of a given trope. Because of this, more efforts have been made to show the differences in tropes rather than the similarities. The goal of this study was to explore an alternative model of figurative language processing that I have proposed, called the Figurative Funnel. This model predicts that figurative language processing occurs either through meaning construction or direct access of meaning. Which processing style is used is based on the familiarity of the figurative phrase. Two eye-tracking experiments were conducted to determine the validity of the Figurative Funnel model for explaining how metaphors, idioms, and similes are processed. Patterns of eye movements were analyzed to determine if unique processing strategies were being used for unfamiliar metaphors across the three tropes. Results showed some familiarity effects in reading time and fixation count for metaphors and idioms, but no familiarity effects for similes. In addition, metaphors and similes appeared to use a very similar processing styles regardless of familiarity. Familiar and unfamiliar idioms did have different patterns of eye movements. Overall, there was little support for the figurative funnel for metaphors and similes, but there was support based on idioms. Implications for other models of figurative language processing are discussed.



Raney, Gary


Raney, Gary



Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level

  • Doctoral

Committee Member

Goldman, Susan Wiley, Jennifer Morgan-Short, Kara Ashby, Jane

Submitted date

December 2017

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