Representational Form and Metaphorical Word Use


How does semantic representation influence the likelihood that a word will be used metaphorically? We explore whether words whose meanings are defined by relations among entities (e.g., marriage, forget), are more likely to be used metaphorically than words whose meanings are defined by features of entities (e.g., bird). Verbs are generally more relational than nouns (Gentner, 1981). Relationality can also distinguish different kinds of nouns: specifically, relational nouns (e.g., marriage) vs. entity nouns (e.g., bird) (Gentner & Kurtz, 2005; Goldwater, Markman, & Stilwell, 2011; Markman & Stilwell, 2001). Prior studies have shown that the meanings of relational words are more mutable across contexts than those of entity words (Gentner & France, 1988; Asmuth & Gentner, under review). Extending this work, we find that uses of relational words (both verbs and relational nouns) tend to be more metaphorical than uses of entity nouns in natural language corpora.

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