Laboratoire Psychologie de la Perception Institut Neurosciences Cognition Université Paris Descartes Centre National de Recherche Scientifique
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Figures Of Language In Cognitive Science In The Light Of Figurative Language Processing In The Brain

In the past two decades the cognitive neuroscience of language processing has been expanding at an unprecedented pace, for a large part thanks to novel brain imaging technologies. Even though metaphors are highly frequent in everyday language and crucial in scientific reasoning, processing models and experimental results are inconsistent. Profound questions are still open such as the role of the right hemisphere in their comprehension, or whether there is a dedicated neural substrate for figures of speech. The experimental part of the present work attempts to resolve some of the contradictions by controlling the numerous variables suspected to pose a processing load on the right hemisphere, such as the effects of novelty, sentential context, imageability, and emotional valence and arousal. According to the results metaphors levy classical left hemispheric language areas, and require no specialized computations. Studies showing right hemispherical involvement could have observed poetic and/or contextual effects. In the second part, I propose a metaphor comprehension model based on abstract conceptual substitution, with an attempt to integrate the semantic and pragmatic aspects of metaphor processing. The extra cognitive effort necessary for metaphor comprehension is discussed in a relevance theory based framework, where I suggest two key pragmatic roles for metaphors: (1) covering up meaning in socially risky situations by letting the hearer make inferences, hence making meaning negotiable; and (2) highlighting meaning by creating analogies and mappings utilizing their expressive power. Finally, in a neural model of scientific endeavor, the cognitive dispositions (e.g., hemispheric preferences) of researchers are proposed to translate into various schools of scientific research programs via inventive metaphors. Thought-as-language might be preferred over thought-as-vision, or vice versa, by researchers whose personal brain architecture favors one work method over the other. In conclusion I suggest that instead of trying to resolve the ever debates of cognition between competing approaches, they could be reinterpreted as products of the human mind, and could be integrated into a unified epistemological system.

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