Edwin den Boer, IGEL Utrecht 1998 (abstract)

The Frequency of Original Metaphors in Literary and Nonliterary Texts

All but the most conventional metaphors were tallied in a corpus of 30 randomly collected short texts, representing four genres: lyrical poetry, prose fiction, news reports and scientific articles. These metaphors were then classed into three levels of conceptual originality. Criteria for the degree of originality were: imagery value, novelty and complexity. These qualities have in common that they promote a concrete, fictional interpretation, as opposed to the immediate construction or retrieval of an abstract meaning.

The frequency of moderately conventional metaphors did not show any significant difference between the four genres (p > .05). In contrast, moderately original metaphors were found more than twice as often in poetry as in any of the other genres. Very original metaphors were only found in poetry and fiction. Overall, there was a positive correlation between the 'degree of literariness' of the genre and the total number of metaphors (original and moderately conventional), but this correlation was only significant for the number of types (p < .01), not for the number of tokens.

Other findings included a near absence of nominative ("A is B") metaphors in this corpus, even though that seems to be the most popular form in metaphor studies.

© Edwin den Boer 1998

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