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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Multimodal similes : toward a cognitive understanding of similative meaning Lou, Adrian


The dissertation offers a novel theoretical framework for the investigation of similative meaning. Drawing upon cognitive linguistic tools and concepts, the project challenges the longstanding assumptions that simile is a subtype or literal counterpart to metaphor, and that simile is a figure of speech inescapably tied to its verbal form (i.e. X is like Y). To expose the unique conceptual qualities of simile and to more rigorously define the properties of similative meaning, I examine multimodal artifacts that prompt a similative construal without conforming to traditional similative constructions. The project starts with the observation that similes in spoken and written use tend not to rely on the predicative (be like) forms but on other forms, like the appositive. Moreover, similes in discourse are commonly used to elicit sensory perceptions and embodied experiences (i.e. X looks like Y; X feels like Y respectively). Taking these attributes of simile as the starting point of my assessment, I suggest that simile differs from metaphor not only in terms of form but also in terms of meaning. Expanding on recent cognitive linguistic re-evaluations of simile, I further demonstrate that simile has its own unique set of similative mappings that are distinct from metaphorical ones. I then propose that a more robust method for the evaluation of simile should shift focus away from examining exclusively verbal similes to inspecting similes in multimodal contexts. I draw upon cognitive and rhetorical theories of embodiment to develop a cline of similative expression that serves as a guiding framework for the subsequent analyses of multimodal similes. The chapters’ case studies, which look at late night talk show monologues, internet memes, as well as artwork from recent political protests, show how similative meaning underlies the emergence of multimodal artifacts by coopting evocative images alongside linguistic forms that go beyond the standard use of the preposition like. Ultimately, the project contributes to the fields of cognitive linguistics, multimodal discourse analysis and rhetorical criticism by demonstrating the various ways in which similative meaning can emerge to inform our collective conceptualization of values, entities and ideas.

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