Comprehension of different types of novel metaphors in monolinguals and multilinguals

Ana Werkman-Horvat, Marianna Bolognesi, Jeannette Littlemore, John Barnden

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It has been suggested that multilingualism can lead to increased cognitive flexibility and creativity. No studies to date, however, have investigated whether this advantage leads to a greater propensity to find meaning in different kinds of novel metaphors. This article reports a self-paced reading study that focuses on whether such an increased propensity is displayed by multilingual English speakers, as opposed to monolingual English speakers. The article explores the difference between two broad types of novelty in metaphorical expressions, which are distinguished by how readily they conform to existing metaphorical schemata. The results indicate that both monolinguals and multilinguals find novel metaphors that conform readily to an existing schema easier to comprehend those that do not. They also take longer to seek meaning in metaphors that conform readily to an existing schema. Multilinguals are more likely than monolinguals to find meaning in both types of novel metaphor. The theoretical distinction drawn between metaphors that conform readily to an existing schema and those that do not highlights the variability of meaning in novel metaphors. It also focuses attention on the different extents to which hearers seek rich meanings as opposed to less rich but more easily derived ones.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-36
Number of pages36
JournalLanguage and Cognition
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 25 Apr 2022

Bibliographical note

Not yet published as of 30/03/2022.


  • cognitive flexibilty
  • high-conforming novel metaphor
  • low-conforming novel metaphor
  • metaphor comprehension
  • multilingualism
  • novel metaphor


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