Conventionalization of lexical meanings and the role of metaphoricity: Processing of metaphorical polysemy using a cross-modal lexical priming task

Yuchun Chang, Chien Jer Charles Lin, Kathleen Virginia Ahrens

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Decades of lexical ambiguity research has rigorously studied effects of relative sense frequency on sense disambiguation in biased contexts, while fundamental semantic issues such as distinction of different types of ambiguities, or influences from lexical meanings' semantic nature (e.g., literal or metaphorical) as well as these meanings' degrees of conventionalization, have received less attention. In particular, while previous experimental works tend to focus on stimuli having dominant concrete meanings, a large amount of words having dominant abstract meanings are overlooked. This study focused on lexemes that contain related literal and metaphorical senses (i.e., metaphorical polysemies) in Mandarin Chinese, and examined meaning activation patterns of literaldominant lexemes (having dominant literal senses and subordinate metaphorical senses, e.g., fèiwù 'waste; a good-for-nothing') and metaphor-dominant lexemes (having dominant metaphorical senses and subordi nate literal senses, e.g., jiaodù 'spatial angle; viewpoint') in literally-biased, metaphorically-biased, and control neutral contexts in an online cross-modal lexical priming task. While both senses of literal-dominant lexemes appeared to be accessed regardless of contextual bias, only metaphorical senses of metaphor-dominant lexemes showed signs of activation in compatible contexts. The results are discussed in terms of influences from different degrees of conventionalization of literal and metaphorical senses as well as time course of meaning activation for these two types of lexemes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)587-614
Number of pages28
JournalLanguage and Linguistics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Contextual effect
  • Conventionalization
  • Lexical ambiguity
  • Metaphorical polysemy
  • Sense frequency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language

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