The effect of cultural background on metaphor interpretation

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This article describes a study that investigated the ways in which Bangladeshi students interpreted metaphors used by their lecturers during a short course at a British university. The students were asked to interpret a number of metaphors presented in context. They were also asked to identify the value judgements that were being expressed through these metaphors in these particular contexts. Culture-specific assumptions about the target domains appeared to affect the students’ recognition of the lecturers’ attitudes to the issues they were discussing. In order to identify areas of disparity between the (working) cultures of the Bangladeshi students and their British lecturers, Hofstede’s (1980) cultural values questionnaire was administered. The students were found to be more likely than their lecturers to favour uncertainty avoidance, and to favour high power distance at work. The kinds of (mis)interpretations that the students made of (the evaluative content of) the metaphors appeared in accordance with these cultural differences. Implications of these findings are discussed.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)273-288
Number of pages16
JournalMetaphor and Symbol
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2003