Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




B. Allen




In this thesis I argue that the conception of literal meaning adopted by both semantic and pragmatic metaphor theorists, which roughly indicates an adherence to a lexical authority and conventionally accepted grammar, is far too limited in scope to account for what is generally taken to include literal meaning in the use of language. Upon closer examination, much of what is generally taken to be 'literal' can be shown to exceed the bounds of literalness proposed by both pragmatic and semantic theories of metaphor. In light of this, I contend that literalness, rather than being purely semantic, is thoroughly conditioned by pragmatic processes. The literal meaning of a statement is, therefore, at least partially determined by contextual factors (e.g.,what discourse has preceded the given statement or who utters the given statement. Meaning cannot be divorced from the conditions of use.

By putting forward a version of literalness that is sensitive to contextual factors, I also argue that metaphor should, in certain circumstances, be considered literal. The interpretation of metaphors requires as much contextual input as the interpretation of literal statements. If a given interpreter can accurately and directly grasp the meaning of a metaphor, this interpretation will be considered literal. In this sense, the literalness of a metaphor depends heavily on the ability of the interpreter to assess and interpret contextual ingredients. Despite what numerous theorists have suggested, much of what is attributed to metaphorical language can also be attributed to literal language and vice versa.

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