Shana Scucchi

Date of Award

Spring 2022

Document Type

Open Access Thesis



First Advisor

Paul Malovrh


Metaphor use and meaning is deeply tied to the culturally-determined conventional use of language. To date, most research regarding metaphor comprehension exists within the realm of first language (L1) acquisition, with little research that examines how learners interpret metaphor in their second language (L2). Thus, little is known about how learners process metaphor constructions in their L2, or how these processing strategies may affect other L2 skills, such as reading abilities.

Gentner (1988) investigated how metaphors are comprehended at various ages using the nominal metaphor X is Y, where Y is the base of the metaphor and X is the target. Gentner found is that as children get older, and acquire more features of the language, they shift their processing strategy away from identifying attributive similarities to more relational and conceptual similarities, recognized as The Relational Shift.

The present study employs the framework established in Gentner (1988) to determine the processing strategies utilized by English L2 learners to comprehend the nominal metaphor construction X is Y by asking participants to interpret novel attributive, relative, and double metaphor statements. The Relational Shift identified by Gentner was recognized in English L2 learners as well, with the more complex relative processing strategy utilized more frequently as proficiency in the L2 increased. This indicates that L2 learners are aware of different types of metaphor, but have some difficulty processing specific types. The high proportion of nonsense answers given by participants is evidence that instruction around metaphor processing is warranted, especially at the lowest proficiency levels.

Participants were subsequently scored based on their reading times and responses to a reading quiz following a passage that included three target double metaphor constructions. The presence of the double metaphor construction hindered L2 learners’ reading fluency, indicating there is need for increased exposure to reading materials containing metaphor. In the next iteration of metaphor processing research in second language acquisition (SLA), the use of the L2 and the consumption of L2 media should be investigated as potential influences on metaphor processing strategies, which may lead to pedagogical developments in advanced pragmatic instruction within the L2 English classroom.

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