comprehension interpretation of proverbs in l2 by cieslicka anna 2002 l.
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Comprehension & interpretation of proverbs in L2 by Cieslicka, Anna.(2002) Rebecca Chiu General question What is the comprehension & interpretation of proverbs by L2 learners?

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*Figurative language poses problems even for advanced L2 learners*metaphorical in nature (e.g., the fish rots from the head first).

*Traditional approaches

*The Extended Conceptual Base Theory (ECBT)

*The Conceptual Metaphor Hypothesis.

traditional approaches multistage model temple and honeck 1999
Traditional approachesMultistage Model (Temple and Honeck, 1999)

1. Computation of the literal meaning of the utterance


2. Determine if this literal rendering is appropriate.

Contextual constraints:

*immediate situation

*relevant background knowledge


* Numerous recent reaction-time studies(Kemper 1987, Gibbs 1986, Glass 1983)have repeatedly shown that figurative utterances need not take longer time to process.


*Honeck (1999): the expression’s figurative meaning is understood faster than its literal meaning.Direct Access Model: figurative meanings are automatically accessed from memory*Lima 1984, Estill & Kemper 1982:Lack of difference between literal and figurative processing timeParallel Model: both literal and figurative meanings are generated independently and simultaneously.

recent experimental literature in proverbs
Recent experimental literature in proverbs:
  • Familiar proverbs can take less time to comprehend than their literal paraphrases
  • The process of novel proverbs, when presented in context, need not require additional process time

Purpose of Current Work*Which of the opposing theories (EBCT vs. CMH) offers a better explanation for L2 proverb comprehension?*By replicating Gibbs’ proverb study: How do bilingualisms perform on a mental imagery task?


Two contrasting accounts: * Extended Conceptual Base Theory (EBCT): -emerging from multistage model -a problem-solving process * Conceptual Metaphor Hypothesis (CMH): Proverbs are based on image schemas or built-inmetaphors which can be automatically accessed.

extended conceptual base theory honeck riechmann and hoffman 1975
Extended Conceptual Base Theory(Honeck, Riechmann and Hoffman, 1975)
  • Problem recognition phase
  • Literal transformation phase
  • Figurative phase
  • Instantiation phase

A peacock should frequently look at its legs.

conceptual metaphor hypothesis cmh
Conceptual Metaphor Hypothesis (CMH):
  • Originates from Lakoff and Turner’s

Great Chain Metaphor Theory (1989):

  • Gibbs, Johnson & Colson (1996)

conceptual mapping

one specific-level schema from the source domain


a generic-schema from the target domain.

One rotten apple spoils the whole barrel

Bad people


Gibbs’ study (1997)*Subjects: 24 undergraduates*Material & Procedure: -participants were presented a questionnaire asking them to write down mental images (16 proverbs from Penguin Dictionary of Proverbs) -participants answer two yes-no questions two open-ended questions

A rolling stone gathers no moss.
  • Too many cooks spoil the broth.
  • Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
  • The early bird catches the worm.
  • One rotten apple spoils the whole barrel.
  • Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
  • Don’t put all your eggs in one baskets.
  • Let sleeping dogs lie.
  • You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.
  • Look before you leap.
a rolling stone gathers no moss
A rolling stone gathers no moss
  • Yes-no question
    • Intentionality

Does the stone roll out of its own will or because somebody else made it do so?

    • Stopability of the action

Once the stone starts rolling, is it easy to stop it?

  • Open-ended question
    • Causation of the action
      • What caused the stone to start rolling?
    • Manner
      • How does the stone roll? Quickly or slowly?...

*RationalIntentionality, Stopability, Causation, manner -- central characteristics of one’s knowledge of objects and events in the real world*Results Mental images were consistent and detailedA rolling stone gathers no moss:One round or smooth stone, rolling down a grassy hillside and bouncing around on a bumpy road down the slope.

Gibbs claimed:*People tacitly use pervasive conceptual metaphors in order to understand figurative meanings of proverbs

Current StudyMethod:*Subjects. 30 Polish students of English (3rd year students at Adam Mickiewicz University.)*Material & Procedure.A list of 10 proverbs( taking from Gibbs et al.’s 19970 mental imagery task.)


Subjects were presented with a questionnaire starting with a proverb-definition-matching task

Describe their mental image for each proverb

Answer four probe questions about causation, intentionality, manner, and stopability of the actions depicted in each proverb (two yes-no questions, and two open-ended questions)

Mental image:
    • 2 judges compared the participants’ description with the appropriate general schema for the proverb.
  • Stopability
    • Once the stone starts rolling, is it easy to stop it?




  • Intentionality
    • Does the stone roll out of its own?





  • Overall, the bilingual participants only yield 56% similar image schemas, compared to Gibbs’ 89% of consistence. It shows a significant less degree of consistence.
  • Generally, L2 learners’ performance not as good as that of native speakers
  • Bilingual learners have not yet fully developed the essential links between conceptual metaphors and figurative meanings of the proverbs
  • Gibbs’ assumption:
    • high degree of consistency should be attributed to the conceptual metaphors motivating figurative meanings of proverbs.
    • The author suggested more caution in drawing direct conclusions about the presence of conceptual metaphors
  • The mental imagery task: rely more on post-access analytical mechanisms than on immediate on-line processes
  • Many of the responses provided by the L2 participants indeed indicate a possibility that L2 learners’ proverb comprehension within the framework of the ECBT (problem-solving task).
Time is money
  • Mary was worried about her upcoming linguistic exam.
  • The final was in two weeks, and she was not ready for it.
  • She had wasted countless hours that should have been spent studying.
  • With so little time left, she would have to get started right away.
  • She set up a strict schedule for herself and budgeted her time carefully.
  • Mary spent almost every spare minute studying.
  • When she took the test, she could tell the time had been well spent.

conclusive sentence:

  • Her investment had paid off. (Schema-matching version)
  • Her hours spending on the work is worthwhile. (Neutral version)
  • Her investment had not paid off. (Schema-matching version)
  • Her hours spending on the work is not worthwhile. (Neutral version)
  • overall results: different version of yes/no question do not yield significant different process time=> confirm with the results of previous experimental studies:
    • with appropriate context, metaphorical statement do not necessarily take longer process time,
    • sometimes even shorter, especially with conventional metaphors (high frequency or high familiarity)
  • English L1 speakers: whether the question is phrased in the neutral or schema-matching version doesn’t make a big difference for the outcome
  • L2 learners: the results are quite different
    • owing to different /unfamiliar with the English metaphor schemas, L2 learners process literal sentences faster than the metaphorical ones
  • Application on L2 pedagogy: the need to emphasize the extra training in metaphor recognition for L2 students.