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Workshop “Metaphor and Ambiguity Analysis” (MAmbA)

Date: 26-27 March 2021
Venue: University of Tübingen

Organized by the RTG 1808: Ambiguity – Production and Perception
Organizers: Natascha Elxnath & Sarah Metzger


Confirmed Invited Speakers

Monika Fludernik (Universität Freiburg)
Louise McNally (Universitat Pompeu Fabra Barcelona)
Michele Prandi (Università di Genova)
Irene Rapp (Universität Tübingen) and Stefan Engelberg (IDS Mannheim)
Sabine Schulte im Walde (Universität Stuttgart)


Call for Papers

There is a long tradition of discussing metaphors in cognitive linguistics that has offered valuable insights into the cognitive mapping process underlying metaphorical language (e.g. Lakoff & Johnson 1980). However, cognitive linguists have put less emphasis on a formal semantic modelling and the integration into theories of compositional semantics. Neither did formal semantic approaches try to include metaphors into their analyses, exclusively focusing on literal meaning. In recent years, first attempts have been made by formal semanticists to model metaphors, or to include them into formal analyses (e.g. Dowty 2000; Asher & Lascarides 2001; Pustejovsky & Rumshisky 2010; Spalek 2012, 2015; McNally & Spalek 2017). The intended workshop is settled within that framework. At the center are questions concerning the link between metaphor and ambiguity, as illustrated by the German example in (1):

  (1)  Ich muss raus, ich kann hier nicht atmen.

[I need to get out of here, I can’t breathe in here.]

(Tamara Bach: Marsmädchen, DWDS-Corpus)

a. The speaker suffers from dyspnea. (literal reading)

b. The speaker feels confined. (metaphorical reading)

The sentence in (1) is ambiguous between a literal and a metaphorical reading: What triggers the metaphorical reading in this case? Apparently, the meaning of the verb atmen (‘to breathe’) is adjusted. But why does the verb receive a different meaning?

Focusing on metaphorical predications, Asher (2011) suggests that a type conflict (violation of type presuppositions) triggers metaphorical readings. There is, however, no apparent conflict in (1). The verb atmen (‘to breathe’) requires a living subject, and the subject fulfills this requirement. But what else causes the metaphorical reading then? One possible solution could be that metaphorical conflicts do not only emerge on the sentence level, but also on the text level (Prandi 2019). Contextual information, for instance, might lead to a reinterpretation.

This workshop is concerned with the different types of conflicts that lead to metaphorical readings. We hypothesize that a thorough investigation of the underlying conflicts sheds light upon larger questions metaphor research has been struggling with: how to model the ambiguity of metaphors from a formal semantic point of view, and how to properly distinguish between metaphorical and literal readings.

We invite contributions from linguistic fields such as semantics, pragmatics, corpus linguistics, computational linguistics, and psycholinguistics. In order to integrate also the aesthetic and rhetorical potential of metaphor, we will have an interdisciplinary exchange with other language-related fields (such as philosophy, literary studies, rhetoric, theology and others).

The workshop is especially concerned with (but not restricted to) the following questions:

    What types of conflicts trigger metaphorical readings?
    How can we model the ambiguity of metaphors from a formal semantic point of view?
    How can we distinguish between metaphorical and literal readings? Are there distinct (metaphorical and literal) readings at all, or can we rather speak of a continuum?
    What aspects studied in other fields should be included into a formal analysis of metaphor? (e.g. How can we combine a formal analysis with aesthetic and rhetorical functions?)
    In how far can other fields profit from a formal semantic analysis of metaphor?

The workshop will be held in English. Submissions should be in the form of extended abstracts of up to 500 words plus references. Please send an anonymous pdf-document to ambiguitaet@graduiertenkolleg.uni-tuebingen.de by 31 December 2019. Notifications of acceptance will be sent until 31 January 2020. Submissions will be selected for either a talk or a poster presentation.

Select Bibliography

Asher, Nicholas (2011): Lexical Meaning in Context. A Web of Words. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Asher, Nicholas, and Alex Lascarides (2001): Metaphor in discourse. In: Pierrette Bouillon und Frederica Busa (eds.): The Language of Word Meaning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 262-287.

Bach, Tamara: Marsmädchen, Hamburg: Friedrich Oetinger 2003, S. 3. Aus dem Kernkorpus des Digitalen Wörterbuchs der deutschen Sprache, <https://www.dwds.de/d/k-referenz#kern>, abgerufen am 19.07.2019.

Dowty, David (2000): ‘The garden swarms with bees’ and the fallacy of ‘argument alternation’. In: Ravin, Yael, und Claudia Leacock (eds.): Polysemy. Theoretical and Computational Approaches. 111-128.

Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson (1980): Metaphors We Live by. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

McNally, Louise, and Alexandra Anna Spalek (2017): 'Figurative' uses of verb meaning and grammar. Talk given at the conference The Building Blocks and Mortar of Meaning II, Tuebingen, 3 November 2017.

Prandi, Michele (2019): Formal syntax and textual coherence: two well-springs for conceptual conflicts. Talk given at the conference Metaphor – Cognitive and Other, Genoa, 13 May 2019.

Pustejovsky, James, and Anna Rumshisky (2010): Mechanisms of sense extensions in verbs. In: Gilles-Maurice de Schryver (ed.): A Way with Words: Recent Advances in Lexical Theory and Analysis. A Festschrift for Patrick Hanks. Kampala: Menha Publishers. 67-88.

Spalek, Alexandra Anna (2012). Putting order into the literal and figurative uses of verbs. ‘romper’ as a case study. Borealis 1/2, 140-167.

Spalek, Alexandra Annna (2015). Spanish change of state verbs in composition with atypical theme arguments: Clarifying the meaning shifts. Lingua 157, 36-53.