Literal Meaning and the Comprehension of Metaphors

Steven L. Lytinen, Robert R. Burridge, Jeffrey D. Kirtner

Based on psychological studies which show that metaphors and other nonliteral constructions are comprehended in the same amount of time as comparable literal constructions, some researchers have concluded that literal meaning is not computed during metaphor comprehension. In this paper, we suggest that the empirical evidence does not rule out the possibility that literal meaning is constructed. We present a computational model of metaphor comprehension which is consistent with the data, but in which literal meaning is computed. This model has been implemented as part of a unification-based natural language processing system, called LINK.

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