Mengyang Qiu: Communicating conceptual and perceptual dimensions of metaphor: a dual-route processing of mental imagery

Comprehending verbal metaphor is often reported to be accompanied by the experience of mental imagery (including visual, auditory, and those involving other sensory modals), which is usually taken as a kind of mental representations with quasi-perceptual properties and is constructed without direct external stimuli. Following recent research in relevance-theoretic pragmatics, I argue that at least for some metaphors, there would be a weakening or loss in terms of speaker’s intended contents without resorting to images. I suggest that there is a dual-route processing that give access to the relevant conceptual and perceptual dimensions of a metaphor. Drawing on ideas from embodied cognition, I also argue that images of this kind are associated with the hearer’s bodily experience. The construction of images involves further activation of a range of representations of different degrees of relevance. Attending to them gives rise to positive cognitive and perceptual effects that allow the hearer to better gauge the overall relevance of the utterance. In this way, mental imagery provides cues to ostension by ‘pointing to’ constituents from memory and bodily experience that perceptually resemble the sensory inputs from the represented object. It is also part of the speaker’s intended contents as a means to guide the hearer in their search for perceptually relevant effects.


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