When Do Vehicles of Similes Become Figurative? Gaze Patterns Show that Similes and Metaphors are Initially Processed Differently


Recent emphases on differences between metaphors and similes pose a quandary. The two forms clearly differ in strength, but often seem to require similar interpretations. In Experiment 1 we show that ratings of comprehensibility are highly correlated across simile and metaphor sentences differing only in the presence or absence of “like”. In Experiment 2 we show that comprehensibility ratings for figurative forms predict both early (first pass) and late (second pass) fixation durations for metaphor vehicle, but only late fixation durations for vehicles in similes. Simile vehicles appear to initially be processed similarly to literal comparisons, with figurative interpretation occurring later. These observations are consistent with the different pragmatic strengths, and similar interpretations of the two forms.

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