Thinking across Cultures

By Donald M. Topping; Doris C. Crowell et al. | Go to book overview

28
The Transfer Dilemma: From Cross-Modal Perception to Metaphor

David S. Palermo

The Pennsylvania State University

My research on the development of metaphor production and comprehension has convinced me that children as young as 3 years-of-age are quite capable of comprehending the abstract figurative relations between words expressed in the metaphoric form, as long as the children have some knowledge of the terms and the domain to which they are applied. Given that my conclusion is true, the question of the developmental roots of this ability remains.

I think there is a suggestion in the research of my colleagues that the roots are evident in the cognitive capacities evidenced by infants prior to language acquisition. These roots were pointed to explicitly by Wagner, Winner, Cicchetti , and Gardner ( 1981) in reporting a study they interpret as support for metaphorical ability in infants prior to language. These authors presented infants with eight sets of paired visual and auditory stimuli which were metaphorically related, e.g., an ascending or descending tone and an arrow pointing upward or downward. They found, in three of the eight pairings, that 11-month-old infants spent significantly more time visually attending to the metaphorically related visual stimulus than the unrelated stimulus in the presence of the appropriate auditory stimulus. The data suggest infant recognition of an abstract relation between auditory and visual stimuli analogous to that required for metaphors expressed in language. In language we might say, "an ascending auditory stimulus is an arrow pointing upward" to put it in the linguistically expressed metaphoric relationship that the infants may have abstracted.

On the other hand, one might say that what the infants have achieved is no more than cross-modal transfer. They have recognized a similarity between two different perceptual events. The labeling of such relational recognition as "no more than" cross-modal transfer should not, however, be taken as

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