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Main research interests:
Neurolinguistics, electrophysiological correlates of figurative language, cognitive approach to literature
Short Curriculum:
Behavioural and neurophysiological correlates of literary metaphor. According to classical rhetoric and most of the following theories, including the Gricean approach, metaphor is a deviation from a literal standard. The Romantic critics and other scholars, from cognitive scientists to Postmodern theoretical critics, state that metaphors do not differ from literals. In this approach, there is a dispute between those who consider metaphor as the basis of language and thought (Lakoff 1994, Talmy 2000, Fauconnier & Turner 2002), and those who consider it as a natural process of verbal communication (Glucksberg 2001, Kintsch 2000). Other scholars, like Gibbs (1998), believe that there are correlated metaphoric processes at the level of thought, on the one hand, and at a communication level, on the other hand. Finally, Sperber & Wilson (2008) think that there is no specific mechanism on the basis of metaphor, but an inferential procedure applied by speakers - starting from the literal level - aimed at the creation of metaphors and other particular poetic effects. Within this problematic framework our research aims at analysing the processing of literary metaphors, a field still not so much explored within cognitive neuroscience, by using the Event Related Potential technique (ERPs, 64 channel system). In particular, there will be observed two components: the N400 and the P600. The first one has a negative peak around 400 ms after the stimulus onset, and it is linked to the analysis of meaning, the second one has a late positive peak and reflects a process of control of meaning and/or reanalysis. Previous studies have demonstrated that these components are linked to metaphor processing by analysing metaphors vs literal vs anomalous sentences (Lai et al. 2009; Arzouan et al. 2007; Balconi 2005; Bonnaud et al. 2002; Pynte et al. 1996; Coulson and Van Petten 2002; Tartter et al. 2002; Bambini forthcoming). In these studies, results have been partially replicated but there are still important open questions. For example, it is quite sure that metaphors elicit a more negative N400 than literal sentences (Coulson and Van Petten 2002; Lai et al. 2009), but as far as novel metaphors are concerned, Tartter et al. 2002 have demonstrated that novel metaphors are perceived as anomalous momentarily, while in Lai et al. 2009 they continued to be perceived as being anomalous. At the same time, there is no accordance about the linguistic features of the syntagms/sentences/texts - such as familiarity, predictability, salience (Giora 1997; 1999; 2003) etc.- that have an influence on the observed components. Furthermore, it is still not clear whether the ERP components already identified are also elicited in literary metaphor processing. So, starting from a selection of literary Italian works of the 20th century (particularly the hermetic poetry), we have selected a corpus composed by 150 metaphorical syntagms to which literal syntagms, balanced in length and frequency of use, have been associated. A set of pretests has been conducted for checking the corpus about cloze probability, goodness, aptness etc., because these elements may have effects on the comprehension task and so on the ERP components. A sample of 20 native Italian students, who have not taken part in the behavioural pretests, will participate in the EEG recording session. Participants will perform a simple reading task of the metaphorical syntagms - e.g. “morso del pettine” (comb bite) – versus the literal syntagms – e.g. “manico del pettine” (comb handle)- versus anomalous expressions - e.g. “torte del pettine” (comb cakes)- while an EEG amplifier system records their brain activity. A parallel protocol will use the ERP and the Eye Tracker techniques for analysing both the electrophysiological response of brain and eye movements in subjects processing literary metaphorical syntagms inserted in frame sentences compared to non metaphorical syntagms inserted in the same sentence contexts (all sentences will be balanced for length and frequency of use). Taking into account that literary metaphors, compared with other typologies of metaphors, have an added cognitive value, the goal of this project is to capture possible systematic neurocognitive differences in processing the metaphorical level compared with the literal one, also on the basis of the results of the previous experiment. Finally, note that a deep understanding of the metaphorical processes may offer a useful support in the treatment of some pathologies, such as the Alzheimer disease and schizophrenia, which involve semantic disorders at different levels. Supervisors: Prof. Mirko Grimaldi (University of Salento, Lecce), Dr Valentina Bambini (Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa)
Last modified 27/10/2016
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