Speaker identity in metaphor processing



Partners and collaborators

University of Windsor, Canada


Funded by: School of Languages, Cultures and Societies Strategic Research Development Fund 

Addressees use information from specific speakers’ prior discourse to make predictions about incoming language and to restrict the choice of potential interpretations. In this way, speaker specificity has been shown to be an influential factor in language processing across multiple linguistic domains, though its influence on semantic disambiguation has received little attention to date.

Using an exposure-test design and visual world eye tracking, we examined the effect of speaker-specific style on the disambiguation of polysemes such as ‘click on the fork’. Eye movements revealed that when interpreting polysemous words with a literal and a nonliteral meaning, addressees experienced a greater pull towards the nonliteral meaning in response to a nonliteral speaker than in response to a literal speaker.

Response data revealed that addressees then ultimately resolved to the literal target in 90% of trials. Our results suggest that speaker style leads addressees to anticipate an intended sense that matches a particular speaker’s style. We conclude that speaker style is a contextual determinant in semantic processing.