Mind and Language 21 (3):379–403 (2006)

This paper explores the trade-off between cognitive effort and cognitive effects during immediate metaphor comprehension. We specifically evaluate the fundamental claim of relevance theory that metaphor understanding, like all utterance interpretation, is constrained by the presumption of optimal relevance (Sperber and Wilson, 1995, p. 270): the ostensive stimulus is relevant enough for it to be worth the addressee's effort to process it, and the ostensive stimulus is the most relevant one compatible with the communicator's abilities and preferences. One important implication of optimal relevance is that listeners follow a path of least effort and stop processing at the first interpretation that satisfies their expectation of relevance. They do this by trying to minimize cognitive effort while maximizing cognitive effects. Some relevance theory scholars suggest that metaphors should require additional cognitive effort to be understood, and that in return they yield more cognitive effects than does literal speech. Others claim that metaphors may be understood quickly, as soon as people infer enough effects for the speaker's utterance to meet their expectation of optimal relevance. Our analysis of the experimental evidence suggests that there is no systematic relationship between cognitive effort and cognitive effects in metaphor comprehension. We conclude that relevance theory need not make any general predictions about the effort needed to comprehend metaphors. Nevertheless, relevance theory is consistent with many of the findings in psycholinguistics on metaphor understanding, and can account for aspects of metaphor understanding that no other theory can explain.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1111/j.1468-0017.2006.00283.x
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 60,826
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Metaphors We Live By.George Lakoff & Mark Johnson - 1980 - University of Chicago Press.
Embodiment and Cognitive Science.Raymond W. Gibbs - 2005 - New York ;Cambridge University Press.

View all 10 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Metaphor and Minimalism.Josef Stern - 2011 - Philosophical Studies 153 (2):273 - 298.

View all 18 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles


Added to PP index

Total views
234 ( #40,487 of 2,438,838 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
1 ( #435,061 of 2,438,838 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes