Creativity and Convention

The pragmatics of everyday figurative speech

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This book offers a pragmatic account of the interpretation of everyday metaphorical and idiomatic expressions. Using the framework of Relevance Theory, it reanalyses the results of recent experimental research on figurative utterances and provides a novel account of the interplay of creativity and convention in figurative interpretation, showing how features ‘emerge’ during metaphor comprehension and how literal meaning contributes to idiom comprehension. The central claim is that the mind is rather selective when processing information, and that in the pragmatic interpretation of both literal and figurative utterances, this selectivity often results in the creation of new (‘ad hoc’) concepts or the standardization of pragmatic routines. With this approach, the comprehension of metaphors and idioms requires no special pragmatic principles or procedures not required for the interpretation of ordinary literal utterances, but follows from an automatic tendency towards selective processing which is itself a by-product of Sperber and Wilson’s <i>Cognitive Principle of Relevance</i>.

Subjects: Pragmatics; Cognition and language; Discourse studies

  • Affiliations: 1: University College, London

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