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Ad hoc concept as source domain in novel metaphor

Esther Romero & Belén Soria (Granada, Spain)

Saturday, May 19th
Buchanan B215

An ad hoc concept is one that is made up on the spot, that the speaker is most unlikely to have had ready-made before the occasion of the utterance (Barsalou 1983). An example of ad hoc concept is GOOD THINGS TO STAND ON TO CHANGE A LIGHT BULB.

The idea of a concept being made up on the spot has led some authors to argue that metaphor interpretation is just as any other case of ad hoc concept formation (Glucksberg and Keysar 1990, Sperber and Wilson 1986/95, Carston 2002). We agree that metaphor involves an ad hoc concept construction but we argue that metaphorical ad hoc concepts have peculiar characteristics (Romero and Soria 2010).

Indeed, the aim of this talk is to account for the differences between several types of ad hoc concepts specifying the peculiar characteristics of metaphorical ad hoc concepts as distinct from non-metaphorical ad hoc concepts. Interpretation of novel metaphor involves a special type of ad hoc concept formation that requires a cross-domain mapping (from source to target domain). In addition, we will draw attention to special cases of metaphor in which the source domain is ad hoc. For example, the ad hoc nonmetaphorical concept AN ISLAND WHICH IS SUN-DRENCHED, TROPICAL AND CONSIDERED ATTRACTIVE BY YOUNG SWEDISH TOURISTS can be made explicit literally and then be used as source domain for the metaphorical utterance:

(1) I like to think that perhaps I am that kind of island. (…) I like to think I’m Ibiza.

(From the film About a boy)

This view opposes the proposal by Relevance theory both with respect to their view of metaphor as a case of ad hoc concept construction involving loosening and with respect to the most recent proposal of two routes for metaphor interpretation (Carston 2010) in which creative, literary or extended metaphors cannot be explained in the same way as more spontaneous, spoken and conversational cases. For Carston, only the latter are said to involve ad hoc concept construction for their interpretation. We propose a homogeneous account of novel metaphor interpretation instead. From this interaction proposal the most creative and extended metaphors are also explained as involving a pragmatic process of ad hoc concept construction. It also allows an account of the type of novel metaphor in which the source domain is ad hoc.


Barsalou, L.: 1983, “Ad hoc categories”, Memories and Cognition 11: 211-27. Carston, R.: 2002, Thoughts and Utterances: The Pragmatics of Explicit Communication. Oxford: Blackwell.

Carston, R.: 2010, “Metaphor: Ad hoc concepts, literal meaning and mental images” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society. 110 (3): 295-321.

Glucksberg, S. and Keysar, B.: 1990, Understanding metaphorical comparisons: Beyond similarity. Psychological Review, 97, 3-18.

Romero, E. and Soria, B.: 2010, “Phrasal Pragmatics in Robyn Carston’s Programme”. In B. Soria and E. Romero (eds.), Explicit Communication, Palgrave Studies in Pragmatics, Language and Cognition. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 183-98.

Sperber, D. and Wilson, D.: 1986/95, Relevance: Communication and Cognition. Oxford: Blackwell.

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