The poetic metaphor interpretation processes of L1 and L2 readers from a relevance theory perspective

Rights statement
Awarding institution
  • University of Strathclyde
Date of award
  • 2013
Thesis identifier
  • T13523
Qualification Level
Qualification Name
Department, School or Faculty
  • This study is undertaken to provide a better understanding of the process of poetic metaphor interpretation with a view to enhancing EFL poetry teaching. The study is conducted on twenty postgraduate British and Tunisian students. In this study, I adopted Relevance Theory as a theoretical framework. Relevance Theory (Wilson and Sperber, 2004) views literal and figurative utterances as forming two ends of the same continuum. According to Relevance Theory, conventional metaphors make manifest strong contextual assumptions, which help the reader derive strong contextual implicatures for a minimum amount of cognitive effort. By contrast, creative metaphors make manifest only weak contextual assumptions, which compel the reader to exercise a greater amount of cognitive effort, hence deriving a wide range of weak implicatures. Referring to Relevance Theory, I predicted that the L1 and L2 participants would infer a wider range of implicatures for creative than for conventional metaphors. I also anticipated that the L1 participants would infer fewer implicatures for conventional metaphors and a wider range of implicatures for creative metaphors than the L2 participants. I made use of the think-aloud technique to collect data on the online metaphor interpretation processes. The findings show that the participants looked for general metaphorical frames, against which they interpreted metaphors. They also integrated information from different parts of the text to interpret the metaphors they identified. However, the L1 and L2 participants did not seem motivated to infer rich interpretations for creative metaphors. Though they expended more cognitive effort on the processing of creative metaphors than on conventional metaphors, they basically sought single interpretations. As a whole, the L1 participants inferred more implicatures than the L2 participants, which seems to be attributable to the wider range of literary and symbolic associations they retrieved. Most significantly, the L1 participants seemed to be more efficient than the L2 participants in the interpretation of conventional metaphors, as they showed fewer cases of a literal processing stage than the L2 participants. This seems to be attributed to their greater awareness of underlying conventional conceptual metaphors than the L2 participants. Overall, the findings provide strong support to relevance theory in so far as conventional poetic metaphor interpretation is concerned, as the L1 participants are found to invest less time and to infer stronger implicatures than the L2 participants for these metaphors. By contrast, the findings contradict the relevance theory account of creative poetic metaphor interpretation as the L1 and L2 participants are found not to be motivated to invest sufficient cognitive effort and to derive rich interpretations for creative metaphors.
Resource Type
Date Created
  • 2013
Former identifier
  • 996365