NotesFAQContact Us
Search Tips
Peer reviewed Peer reviewed
Direct linkDirect link
ERIC Number: EJ1135471
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2017-Mar
Pages: 28
Abstractor: As Provided
ISSN: ISSN-0364-0213
Metonymy as Referential Dependency: Psycholinguistic and Neurolinguistic Arguments for a Unified Linguistic Treatment
Piñango, Maria M.; Zhang, Muye; Foster-Hanson, Emily; Negishi, Michiro; Lacadie, Cheryl; Constable, R. Todd
Cognitive Science, v41 suppl 2 p351-378 Mar 2017
We examine metonymy at psycho- and neurolinguistic levels, seeking to adjudicate between two possible processing implementations (one- vs. two-mechanism). We compare highly conventionalized "systematic metonymy" (producer-for-product: "All freshmen read 'O'Connell'") to lesser-conventionalized "circumstantial metonymy" ("[a waitress says to another:] 'Table 2 asked for more coffee."'). Whereas these two metonymy types differ in terms of contextual demands, they each reveal a similar dependency between the named and intended conceptual entities (e.g., Jackendoff, 1997; Nunberg, 1979, 1995). We reason that if each metonymy yields a distinct processing time course and substantially non-overlapping preferential localization pattern, it would not only support a two-mechanism view (one lexical, one pragmatic) but would suggest that conventionalization acts as a linguistic "categorizer." By contrast, a similar behavior in time course and localization would support a one-mechanism view and the inference that conventionalization acts instead as a modulator of contextual felicitousness, and that differences in interpretation introduced by conventionalization are of degree, not of kind. Results from three paradigms: self-paced reading (SPR), event-related potentials (ERP), and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), reveal the following: no main effect by condition (metonymy vs. matched literal control) for either metonymy type immediately after the metonymy trigger, and a main effect for only the Circumstantial metonymy one word post-trigger (SPR); a N400 effect across metonymy types and a late positivity for Circumstantial metonymy (ERP); and a highly overlapping activation connecting the left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (fMRI). Altogether, the pattern observed does not reach the threshold required to justify a two-mechanism system. Instead, the pattern is more naturally (and conservatively) understood as resulting from the implementation of a generalized referential dependency mechanism, modulated by degree of context dependence/conventionalization, thus supporting architectures of language whereby "lexical" and "pragmatic" meaning relations are encoded along a cline of contextual underspecification.
Wiley-Blackwell. 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148. Tel: 800-835-6770; Tel: 781-388-8598; Fax: 781-388-8232; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Research
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: National Science Foundation (NSF)
Authoring Institution: N/A
Grant or Contract Numbers: BCS0643266; NSFINSPIRE1248100