Simile and Metaphor Interpretation in Children

  •  Yusi Song    


Metaphors and similes have been treated as the same comparable types of figurative speech since Aristotle. In early theories, metaphors are interpreted as corresponding similes by paraphrasing. Based on this theoretical framework, some experimental studies interpret simile understanding as evidence for metaphor understanding. However, according to Relevance Theory, similes are interpreted as comparisons, whereas metaphors are interpreted as categorization statements. Therefore, only metaphor reveals metaphor interpretation. In other words, studies cannot use simile interpretation as evidence for metaphor interpretation ability in children. Simile should be easier to understand for children since they exclude an “ad hoc concept” construction as in metaphor understanding. This study seeks evidence showing children’s better performance in simile interpretation than that in metaphor interpretation, thus supporting Relevance Theory. For the Relevance Theory account, whether the experiments use similes or metaphors as testing materials is of considerable significance, whereas for comparison account, it is not. By review and re-interpretation of the empirical studies, we find that few early studies expose “real metaphor” understanding in children. Most experimental results indicate that simile interpretation is easier than metaphor interpretation for children. We consider comparison theory and the Relevance Theory as complementary strategies in metaphor interpretation.

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