LINGUIST List 25.3562

Tue Sep 09 2014

Diss: Pragmatics: Gargani: 'Poetic Comparisons: How Similes are Understood'

Editor for this issue: Danuta Allen <>

Date: 09-Sep-2014
From: Adam Gargani <>
Subject: Poetic Comparisons: How Similes are Understood
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Institution: University of Salford
Program: Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2014

Author: Adam Gargani

Dissertation Title: Poetic Comparisons: How Similes are Understood

Dissertation URL:

Linguistic Field(s): Pragmatics

Dissertation Director:
Diane Blakemore

Dissertation Abstract:

In this thesis I develop a pragmatic account of how similes are understood within the framework of relevance theory (Sperber and Wilson, 1995). Similes, or ‘poetic comparisons’ (Achilles is like a lion) and non-poetic comparisons (Wasabi is like mustard) are understood in similar ways. While non-poetic comparisons communicate that A is like B in terms of a (relatively) determinate range of respects in which the comparison is taken to hold, poetic comparisons achieve relevance by virtue of weak implicatures which are evoked, in part, in pursuit of certain respects in which the comparison holds. However, the outcome of simile understanding does not necessarily involve deriving a determinate range of points of comparison as part of the content of the comparison. In these cases, the speaker/author simply communicates that the relevance of the comparison lies in the fact that two entities or activities are being compared and the hearer/reader has the responsibility for deciding where relevance lies. This account explains: (i) why certain comparisons achieve relevance in this way (why certain comparisons are poetic); (ii) why metaphors and similes, nonetheless, can achieve similar effects; (iii) why competing accounts (which tend to conflate metaphor and simile) are vulnerable to counterexamples; (iv) why qualifying similes (Achilles is a lot like a lion) and supplying additional linguistically-specified content which relates to potential points of comparison (Achilles is like a brave lion; Achilles is like a lion in the parched savannah) does not make a comparison less ‘poetic’; (v) why certain relationships between tenor and vehicle tend to obtain in similes but not in non-poetic comparisons; and (vi) how certain types of metaphor/simile interaction work.

Page Updated: 09-Sep-2014