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Learning figurative language: the comprehension of taboo metaphors by L2 speakers

By Ferran Suner Munoz, Barbara De Cock and 4th International conference on figurative thought and language

Abstract

Our paper focuses on the comprehension of figurative language by L2 speakers, with a focus on the comprehension of metaphors that express sexual taboo concepts. Over the past few years, conceptual fluency (Danesi 2008) as a competence relevant to language teaching and learning has received much attention, especially because it aligns well with the call for a holistic approach to language learning and teaching that efficiently integrates the multilingual background of individuals. The proper acquisition of such a conceptual fluency in the L2 has been found to be beneficial not only for vocabulary acquisition, but also for grammar learning and pragmatic competence (Littlemore et al. 2014). So far, language acquisition research has focused on the mechanisms and factors affecting the acquisition of conceptual fluency and the efficiency of classroom settings supporting it. However, conceptual fluency and comprehension of figurative language have rarely been investigated with regard to linguistic taboo and its register-specificity. Some preliminary studies (De Cock & Suñer 2018) suggest that factors such as the conceptual and sociocultural distance between L1 and L2 as well as the role of the context might have a different influence on the comprehension of metaphoric taboo expressions than is the case for metaphors concerning more general topic domains. Also, other individual variables such as the reticence to comprehend and/or use the meaning conveyed by such taboo expressions might be at play as well. Against this backdrop, the present paper reports on a study that aims to investigate the interplay between conceptual differences and individual reticence to discuss taboo topics on the one hand, and the comprehension of metaphoric taboo expressions on the other hand. To this end, two different groups of B2 or C1-level learners of Spanish with respectively L1 French and L1 German were presented with a comprehension test on metaphoric taboo expressions and asked to give the meaning or an equivalent expression in their L1. The metaphoric taboo expressions differed from each other in that they were either conceptually different (e.g. the testicles: Span. las pelotas (Engl. ‘the balls’) vs. Germ. die Eier (Engl. ‘the eggs’) or similar (e.g. a condom: Spanish la goma (‘the gum’) vs. Germ. das Gummi (‘the gum’) to their respective equivalents in the L1. In addition, the participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire concerning their linguistic biography (proficiency level, stays abroad, etc.) and their possible reticence to talk about (sexual) taboo topics. Since our study design includes learners of Spanish with different L1 backgrounds, it allows to investigate whether the effects of the factors hold across different language combinations. The results reveal that conceptual distance does not necessarily impair comprehension of metaphoric taboo expressions. Rather, the inhibitory effect of conceptual distance was found to be slightly modulated by the reticence of learners regarding the meaning of the investigated taboo expressions. These findings substantially contribute to a deeper understanding of the factors affecting conceptual fluency in the L2 and paves the way for the implementation of classroom settings that are sensitive to register-specific metaphoric comprehension and that facilitate the comprehension of figurative language in the L2

Topics: metaphor, L2, Spanish, French
Year: 2018
OAI identifier: oai:dial.uclouvain.be:boreal:207515
Provided by: DIAL UCLouvain
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