The Interplay of Syntactic and Lexical Salience and its Effect on Default Figurative Responses


The aim of the paper is to determine how salient and non-salient figurative discourse nouns affect readers’ default response processing and oculo-graphic (eye-movement) reactions. Whereas the theories of the Graded Salience and the Defaultness Hypotheses, developed by R. Giora (Giora, 1999, 2003; Giora, Givoni, & Fein, 2015), have stimulated further research in the area of interpretive salience (Giora et al., 2015; Giora, Jaffe, Becker & Fein, 2018), the resonating influence of syntactic salience on default interpretations has been largely neglected. In this study we provide corpus-based evidence followed by eye-tracking experiment verification, supportive of the synchronized influence of syntactic and lexical salience. The results show that default figurative responses in lexically salient positions may require more cognitive effort (longer fixations) if they are syntactically less salient. Literal responses to figurative nouns may also result from either weak lexical or syntactic salience of nouns. Therefore, apart from exemplifying resonance with lexical salience (in terms of lexical frequency, familiarity, conventionality, and prototypicality), the default figurative interpretations are also syntactically dependent.

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