The tug of war between an idiom's figurative and literal meanings: Evidence from native and bilingual speakers
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SourceBilingualism. Language and Cognition, 23, 1, (2020), pp. 131-147
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Bilingualism. Language and Cognition
SubjectCognitive aspects of Multilingualism; Language & Communication; Psycholinguistics
In two lexical-decision experiments, we investigated the processing of figurative and literal meaning in idioms. Dutch native and German-Dutch bilingual speakers responded to target words presented after a minimal context idiom prime (e.g., 'He kicked the bucket'). Target words were related to the figurative meaning of the prime ('die'), the literal word at the end of the idiom ('water'), or unrelated to both ('face'). We observed facilitation in RTs for figuratively and literally related targets relative to unrelated targets for both participant groups. A higher frequency idiom-final word caused inhibition in responses to the literally related target for native speakers, indicating competition between the idiom as a whole and its literal word constituents. Native speakers further showed sensitivity to transparency of the idiom's meaning and the plausibility of the idiom as a literally interpretable sentence. The results are interpreted in terms of available L1/L2 idiom comprehension models, and a more detailed processing account for literal and idiomatic sentence interpretation.
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