Volume 28, Issue 2
  • ISSN 0929-0907
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9943
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In this article I analyse object labelling image macro internet memes as multimodal metaphors, taking the Distracted Boyfriend meme as a case study. Object labelling memes are multimodal texts in which users add labels to a stock photograph to convey messages that are often humorous or satirical in nature. Using the relevance-theoretic account of metaphor, I argue that object labelling memes are multimodal metaphors which are interpreted using the same processes as verbal metaphors. The labelling of the image guides the viewer in the construction of ad hoc concepts, and it is these ad hoc concepts that contribute to the overall meaning that is communicated. The analysis in this article is rooted in the relevance-theoretic claim that pragmatic interpretive processes are triggered by all and any ostensive acts of communication. I also draw heavily on Deirdre Wilson’s work on lexical pragmatics to show how this plays out in the case of a multimodal digital text. Memes, like verbal metaphors, do not require a special theory or framework. They can be understood as ostensive stimuli which trigger the search for an optimally relevant interpretation.


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