Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Applied Linguistics and English as a Second Language

First Advisor

Scott Crossley

Second Advisor

Nancy Bell

Third Advisor

Eric Friginal

Fourth Advisor

YouJin Kim


Figurative language, such as metaphor and irony, has been studied by researchers in a wide variety of fields for the past several decades. A primary goal of this research has been to determine the processes underlying figurative language comprehension (e.g., how the figurative meaning of a metaphor is processed when compared to its literal meaning). While this research has led to a better understanding of the relation between figurative meaning and surface linguistic form, it has also served to underemphasize other potentially important influences on figurative language use, such as participant individual differences (e.g., cognitive ability, language background), linguistic features (e.g., lexical sophistication), and affective perceptions (e.g., humorous reactions). The purpose of this dissertation was to analyze figurative language use from a dynamic perspective taking into account a multitude of potential influences on the production, processing, and perception of figurative language through three separate studies. In the first two studies, 61 human participants were recruited to complete a metaphor and sarcasm production experiment as well as a satire processing and comprehension experiment. Individual differences measures (e.g., language background, working memory capacity) were collected, and the metaphors, sarcastic responses, and satirical texts were analyzed for linguistic features related to lexical sophistication and semantic cohesion. Results revealed that a number of individual differences and linguistic features were significant predictors of figurative language production ability, but also that these features interacted with contextual variables (e.g., the metaphor or sarcasm prompts) in a dynamic manner, making it difficult to identify consistent influences on figurative language production ability. Moreover, satire comprehension ability was significantly influenced by affective perceptions of sincerity, positivity, and humor, as well as by relative English age of onset, but not by processing time, suggesting that comprehension of satirical meaning is heavily dependent upon pragmatic inference. In the third study, 423 online workers completed an online creative production task, the results of which suggested that the presence of figurative language significantly increased perceptions of creativity, highlighting further connections between creativity and figurative language. Overall, these results demonstrate the importance of adopting a dynamic approach towards understanding figurative language use.

Available for download on Thursday, April 16, 2020