Cross-cultural variation in deliberate metaphor interpretation

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The distinction between ‘deliberate’ and ‘non deliberate’ metaphors has been developed within a five-step framework (Steen) of metaphor production. Deliberate metaphors invite the addressee to pay special attention to their cross-domain structure mapping rather than focusing primarily on the topical proposition. This paper presents results of a pilot survey eliciting interpretations for the metaphors A NATION IS A BODY/A NATION IS A PERSON from an international sample of respondents in 10 different countries. ESL/EFL users from diverse cultural and/or linguistic backgrounds were asked to apply the metaphorical idiom body politic to their home nations. The responses show systematic variation in preferred metaphor interpretations, some of which can be linked to dominant cultural traditions, as well as evidence of polemical and/or ironic elaboration. Neither of these findings is predicted by classic conceptualist models that describe metaphor understanding as an automatic and unconscious process. Instead, when paying special attention to metaphoricity, informants seem to have chosen between diverse interpretation versions and in some cases to have elaborated them further to achieve social pragmatic effects. These findings provide new supporting evidence for Deliberate Metaphor Theory by highlighting deliberateness in metaphor interpretation and outlining perspectives for further empirical testing of metaphor understanding in specific registers and usage contexts (e.g., political discourse, EFL/ESL acquisition).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)205-224
Number of pages20
JournalMetaphor and the Social World
Issue number2
Early online date14 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • cross-cultural variation
  • deliberate metaphor
  • English as a Lingua Franca
  • metonymy
  • political discourse

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