Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Episodic memory demands modulate novel metaphor use during event narration


Metaphor is an important part of everyday thought and language. Although we are often not aware of metaphor in everyday speech, on occasion, a particularly creative or novel use of metaphor will make us pay attention. It has been hypothesized that one of the driving cognitive factors behind the use of novel metaphor is a need to describe a new reality (as opposed to a preexisting reality) that would otherwise be difficult to convey using conventionalized metaphor. To this extent, novel metaphor use in everyday language may be more associated with episodic memory demands in contrast to conventional metaphor that is associated with semantic memory. To test this idea we analyzed novel metaphor use in the Hippocorpus --- a corpus of more than 5000 recalled and imagined stories about memorable life events in the first person perspective. In this dataset, recalled events have been shown to rely on episodic memory to a greater extent than descriptions of imagined events (i.e., narrating an event as if it happened to you but not describing an event that actually happened to you), which largely draw on semantic memory. We hypothesized that novel metaphor use during event narration should be modulated by the extent to which language users are able to draw on primary experience to describe events. We found that novel metaphor counts in recalled events were significantly higher than imagined events. Importantly, we found that factors that influence the extent to which language users are able to draw on primary experience during event narration (i.e., openness to experience, similarity to one's own experience, and how memorable or important an event was) modulated novel metaphor use in different ways in imagined compared to recalled events. The work paves the way for using large scale corpora to analyze underlying cognitive processes that modulate metaphorical language use.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View