Metaphor and Symbol : Autism and Nonliteral Language

samedi 28 avril 2012

La revue Metaphor and Symbol consacre son premier numéro de l’année 2012 à l’autisme et au langage non littéral.

Autism and Nonliteral Language

1. Giora R. Introduction : Different ? Not Different ? Metaphor and Symbol. 2012 ; 27(1) : 1-3.

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2. Hobson RP. Autism, Literal Language and Concrete Thinking : Some Developmental Considerations. Metaphor and Symbol. 2012 ; 27(1) : 4-21.

The author’s aim in this article is to dwell on some developmental considerations that are relevant for explaining abnormalities in the language of individuals with autism and Asperger’s syndrome. We face a major challenge in achieving an appropriate level of focus as we move between a perspective on the development of specifically linguistic functioning among children with autism, and concern with broader atypicalities in these individuals’ social ?relational and communicative engagement. This challenge is illustrated by the need to clarify what we mean when we refer to ?literal language ? and ?concrete thinking ? among persons with autism.

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3. Giora R, Gazal O, Goldstein I, Fein O, Stringaris A. Salience and Context : Interpretation of Metaphorical and Literal Language by Young Adults Diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Metaphor and Symbol. 2012 ; 27(1) : 22-54.

Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) involves difficulties in social communication but no delays in language or cognitive development. According to the received view, individuals with AS are biased toward the literal and are insensitive to contextual cues. According to the graded salience hypothesis (Giora, 1997, 2003), participants with AS and controls would be sensitive to both context and degree of salience rather than to degree of nonliterality. Our results show that while individuals with AS generally performed worse than controls, their overall pattern of response was similar to that of controls : both groups performed worse on novel than on familiar expressions, whether literal or metaphorical ; both groups benefited from context, which reduced response times and error rates on novel but not on familiar metaphors ; both groups rated negative utterances as more metaphoric than their affirmative counterparts. Individuals with AS, then, are sensitive to context and degree of salience and are not biased toward the literal.

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4. Gold R, Faust M. Metaphor Comprehension in Persons with Asperger’s Syndrome : Systemized versus Non-Systemized Semantic Processing. Metaphor and Symbol. 2012 ; 27(1) : 55-69.

Based on findings from previous studies (Gold & Faust, 2010 Gold, Faust, & Goldstein, 2010), the present paper presents a theoretical framework for the understanding of semantic processing in AS. We suggest that semantic processing involves both rule-based and rule violating aspects. These two poles of semantic processing are represented by literal and novel metaphoric expressions, respectively. Literal comprehension requires straightforward, conventional, familiar and predictable association between concepts, thus representing relatively systemized, rule-based, linguistic functions. As opposed to this, the comprehension of novel metaphoric combinations is based on the ability to process new, abstract and relatively unpredictable associations. Thus novel metaphor comprehension involves creation of new associations that might violate the rules underlying literal comprehension. These two aspects of language processing are elaborated and discussed in light of previous research on hemispheric involvement during semantic processing in healthy individuals as well as research on language processing in AS.

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5. Colich NL, Wang A-T, Rudie JD, Hernandez LM, Bookheimer SY, Dapretto M. Atypical Neural Processing of Ironic and Sincere Remarks in Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Metaphor and Symbol. 2012 ; 27(1) : 70-92.

Individuals with ASD show consistent impairment in processing pragmatic language when attention to multiple social cues (e.g., facial expression, tone of voice) is often needed to navigate social interactions. Building upon prior fMRI work examining how facial affect and prosodic cues are used to infer a speaker’s communicative intent, the authors examined whether children and adolescents with ASD differ from typically developing (TD) controls in their processing of sincere versus ironic remarks. At the behavioral level, children and adolescents with ASD and matched TD controls were able to determine whether a speaker’s remark was sincere or ironic equally well, with both groups showing longer response times for ironic remarks. At the neural level, for both sincere and ironic scenarios, an extended cortical network ?including canonical language areas in the left hemisphere and their right hemisphere counterparts ?was activated in both groups, albeit to a lesser degree in the ASD sample. Despite overall similar patterns of activity observed for the two conditions in both groups, significant modulation of activity was detected when directly comparing sincere and ironic scenarios within and between groups. While both TD and ASD groups showed significantly greater activity in several nodes of this extended network when processing ironic versus sincere remarks, increased activity was largely confined to left language areas in TD controls, whereas the ASD sample showed a more bilateral activation profile which included both language and ?theory of mind ? areas (i.e., ventromedial prefrontal cortex). These findings suggest that, for high-functioning individuals with ASD, increased activity in right hemisphere homologues of language areas in the left hemisphere, as well as regions involved in social cognition, may reflect compensatory mechanisms supporting normative behavioral task performance.

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6. Gernsbacher MA, Pripas-Kapit SR. Who’s Missing the Point ? A Commentary on Claims that Autistic Persons Have a Specific Deficit in Figurative Language Comprehension. Metaphor and Symbol. 2012 ; 27(1) : 93-105.

It’s become a caricature of autistic persons that they don’t understand figurative language. Despite empirical evidence to the contrary, three of the four contributions to this special issue endorse this stereotype without question. And all four contributions attribute this supposed deficit to even shakier fallacies, such as the controversial claim that autistic people lack empathy or a ?theory of mind.? In this commentary, we begin by reviewing the literature more exhaustively than the other contributions, and we highlight a point that they missed : Autistic persons are likely to have difficulty comprehending figurative language if they also have difficulty comprehending language in general. There doesn’t seem to be a specific deficit in figurative language unique to autism. We also tackle the claim that autistic people lack empathy. And we question the existence of a ?theory of mind area ? while demonstrating the pitfalls that ensnarl researchers when they strain to interpret differences between autistic and non-autistic brain activity as solely autistic deficits.

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