Attention to the source domain of conventional metaphorical expressions: Evidence from an eye tracking study

Ana Werkmann Horvat, Marianna Bolognesi, Nadja Althaus

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This study investigates whether the metaphorical status of conventional expressions can be reactivated when elements of the source domain are present in the context. In indirect metaphors the source domain (or literal meaning) is not expressed (e.g., The father cut the budget). The literal meaning of cutting remains latently encoded in the predicate and readers' attention is not required to move from the finance domain to the domain of physical cuts. Such conventional metaphoric expressions are likely to be processed via lexical disambiguation of a polysemous (metaphorical) verb. Using an eye tracking combined with a forced-choice semantic relatedness task we investigated whether by adding linguistic material referring to the source domain (e.g., father cut the budget like grass), we can direct readers’ attention to the source domain of the metaphorical predicate and stimulate them to interpret conventional metaphorical expressions by means of cross-domain mapping. The results indicate that in the reactivated condition participants dwell on the object (budget) significantly longer in their second run and when they regress to it after the final region than where there is no source domain activation. These findings may offer new insight into the limited experimental evidence related to the deliberate metaphor theory.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-144
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Early online date4 Aug 2023
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2023


  • Attention
  • Deliberateness
  • Eye tracking
  • Metaphor processing

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