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Metaphor as Structure Mapping: The Relational Shift

Dedre Gentner
Child Development
Vol. 59, No. 1 (Feb., 1988), pp. 47-59
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Society for Research in Child Development
DOI: 10.2307/1130388
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1130388
Page Count: 13
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Metaphor as Structure Mapping: The Relational Shift
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Abstract

The goal of this research is to clarify the development of metaphor by using structure-mapping theory to make distinctions among kinds of metaphors. In particular, it is proposed that children can understand metaphors based on shared object attributes before those based on shared relational structure. This predicts (1) early ability to interpret metaphors based on shared attributes, (2) a developmental increase in ability to interpret metaphors based on shared relational structure, and (3) a shift from primarily attributional to primarily relational interpretations for metaphors that can be understood in either way. 2 experiments were performed to test these claims. There were 3 kinds of metaphors, varying in whether the shared information forming the basis for the interpretation was attributional, relational, or both. In Experiment 1, children aged 5-6 and 9-10 and adults produced interpretations of the 3 types of metaphors. The attributionality and relationality of their interpretations were scored by independent judges. In Experiment 2, children aged 4-5 and 7-8 and adults chose which of 2 interpretations-relational or attributional-of a metaphor they preferred. In both experiments, relational responding increased significantly with age, but attributional responding did not. These results indicate a developmental shift toward a focus on relational structure in metaphor interpretation.

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