Cognitive Constraints on Poetic Figures

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The present article focuses on the issue of directionality in three figures of speech, simile, synaesthesia, and zeugma, s it appears in the poetic use of these figures. First, an attempt is made to isolate a certain (structural) level at which these figures of speech manifest an extremely selective preference for certain structural options over others, beyond a specific context (text, poett school, or period). A textual analysis of extensive poetic corpora corroborates this selective use, Traditional accountsfail to accountfor such preferences, given their “contextual” orientation, whereas the phenomena under discussion go beyond any relevant specific context. By contrast, the article provides a cognitive accountfor this selective use, arguing that the figures involved conform to a certain cognitive constraint determining their directionality. Empirical data are introduced, based on various psychological tasks, suggesting that the structures selectedare,from a cognitive standpoint, “more basic” (e.g., are easier to comprehend and recall, and are more easily conventionalized) than those ruled out. The reason these structures are “more basic” than their counterparts is that they meet a general cognitive constraint. Aformulation and a theoretical account of this constraint areproposed and discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-72
Number of pages40
JournalCognitive Linguistics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1997


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