5

RELEVANCE THEORY AND THE FUNCTIONS OF METAPHOR

5.1. METAPHOR AND RELEVANCE THEORY
The most active kinds of metaphors demand considerable interpretative work besides the decoding of their semantics. Semantic decoding will simply give us the Vehicle concept. To establish the Topic—what the V-term is referring to—and to explore the Grounds—the Similarities or Analogies on which the metaphor is based—we must employ mental processes beyond those of decoding. In terms of Figure 5.1, metaphorical understanding depends on the processes and principles involved in the interplay between (1), (2) and (3). (1), knowledge of the language, will give us the output of decoding. To add to this we draw on knowledge which we acquire from (2), the surrounding text, and the physical and social situation in which the text is produced. And we also factor in (3), background knowledge about the world, and the society of our language community. The area of linguistics concerned with the inferential principles and processes needed to complement decoding is Pragmatics, and Relevance Theory provides a coherent general explanation of metaphorical interpretation. So in the first half of this chapter I give a sketch of Sperber and Wilson’s (1986) theory and suggest how it can be usefully modified to provide a more comprehensive account.
5.1.1. What is Relevance? Contextual effects and processing effort
First we need to understand what Relevance means. Information is relevant to you if it interacts with your existing beliefs/thoughts (which Sperber and
1 Knowledge of the language system
2 Knowledge of the context: situation and co-text
3 Background schematic knowledge: factual and socio-cultural

Figure 5.1 Sources of knowledge in text interpretation

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The Language of Metaphors
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations ix
  • Tables x
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • Abbreviations xv
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Metaphorical and Literal Language 14
  • 2 - Metaphor and the Dictionary 41
  • 3 - Metaphor and the Dictionary 82
  • 4 - How Different Kinds of Metaphors Work 107
  • 5 - Relevance Theory and the Functions of Metaphor 137
  • 6 - The Signalling of Metaphor 168
  • 7 - The Specification of Topics 198
  • 8 - The Specification of Grounds 229
  • 9 - The Interplay of Metaphors 255
  • 10 - Metaphor in Its Social Context 283
  • Notes 329
  • References 335
  • Texts Used for Examples and Analysis (and Abbreviations Used in References) 342
  • Index 347
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