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Jakarta Field Station > Collaborative Projects > Figurative Language

Figurative Language: Cross-Linguistic, Cross-Cultural and Cognitive Aspects

Outside Scientists:
Yeshayahu Shen (TAU) [external link]

MPI Scientist:
David Gil

Local Assistants:
Dian Mayasari
Dini Andarini
Tessa Yuditha


The goal of the project is to conduct a systematic in-depth analysis, from a cross-linguistic and cross-cultural perspective, of the linguistic and psychological aspects involved in the use of figurative language, focussing on expressions such as, but not limited to, metaphors, similes, oxymorons, analogies, proverbs and idioms. This study makes use of methodologies developed within cognitive science during the last two decades for the linguistic and psychological study of metaphor; these methodologies are applied to various aspects of figurative language in Malay/Indonesian, in other languages of Indonesia, and cross-linguistically. The general goal is to map out and explore, using comparable methodologies, the universalities and diversities across languages and cultures in the use of figurative language. The project is divided into three sub-projects which are being pursued simultaneously:

1. Figurative Language in Texts
This sub-project involves the investigation of figurative language in Malay/Indonesian and in other languages of Indonesia as manifest in texts of different kinds, including both written and oral, artistic and everyday. Its two major goals are: (a) Mapping the major types of figurative expressions in Malay/Indonesian and other languages of Indonesia, concentrating on idioms, proverbs, analogies, oxymorons, similes, synaesthetic metaphors, and the linguistic metaphors that express various underlying conceptual metaphors; and (b) Comparing figurative language in Malay/Indonesian and other Indonesian languages to figurative language in well-studied western languages such as English, French and Hebrew, searching for univerals and patterns of variation with respect to features such as the directionality of mapping, sentence ordering of metaphorical and literal expressions, linguistic instantiations of conceptual metaphors, compositionalities of idioms and so forth.

2. Cognitive Aspects of Metaphor Use
This sub-project consists of a series of experiments, based on well established experimental paradigms, for examining aspects of the comprehension and possibly also production of figurative language, by speakers of Malay/Indonesian. The experiments include questionnaires, recall, subjects' judgements, context generation tasks, interpretation generation, and so forth. The major goal of this project is to examine to what extent the cognitive processes and mechanisms involved in the production and comprehension of figurative language are shared cross-linguistically and cross-culturally.

3. Typological Aspects of Figurative Language
This sub-project involves the study of certain specific instantiations of figurative language from a broader cross-linguistic perspective, aiming for a world-wide sample that is balanced geographically, genealogically and typologically. This study is based on a questionnaire, a copy of which is available here.

Last modified: 6 Jul 2008, Leipzig, Germany