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Metaphor and Symbol

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Context (Linguistics), Metaphor -- Interpretation, Comparative and general grammar -- Connectives


The model proposed in this article merges the cognitive and social elements of metaphor use and interpretation in the cognitive representation of mutual cognitive environment (Sperber & Wilson, 1986/1995) or common ground (Clark, 1996). The proposed principle of metaphor interpretation is based on the interaction of both vehicle and topic with the common ground. Because common ground is inherently problematic, it is rarely accurate to discuss "the meaning of" a metaphor, as if metaphors must have a single well-specified meaning. Each metaphor is interpreted in the particular communicative context in which it is encountered, and individual interpretations will not necessarily match unless the individuals' cognitive representations of the common ground are similar. The proposed model is consistent with several other theories of metaphor interpretation, but it explicitly acknowledges the need for interpretive processes to be context specific and neurologically embodied, and avoids the problem of circularity (Ritchie, 2003b).


Author Accepted Manuscript of: L. David Ritchie, (2009) "Metaphors in Conversational Context: Toward a Connectivity Theory of Metaphor Interpretation", Metaphor and Symbol 19:4, pages 265-287. Copyright Taylor & Francis, available online at



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