Metaphor in sign languages

Irit Meir, Ariel Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Metaphor abounds in both sign and spoken languages. However, in sign languages, languages in the visual-manual modality, metaphors work a bit differently than they do in spoken languages. In this paper we explore some of the ways in which metaphors in sign languages differ from metaphors in spoken languages. We address three differences: (a) Some metaphors are very common in spoken languages yet are infelicitous in sign languages; (b) Body-part terms are possible in very specific types of metaphors in sign languages, but are not so restricted in spoken languages; (c) Similes in some sign languages are dispreferred in predicative positions in which metaphors are fine, in contrast to spoken languages where both can appear in these environments. We argue that these differences can be explained by two seemingly unrelated principles: the Double Mapping Constraint (Meir, 2010), which accounts for the interaction between metaphor and iconicity in languages, and Croft's (2003) constraint regarding the autonomy and dependency of elements in metaphorical constructions. We further argue that the study of metaphor in the signed modality offers novel insights concerning the nature of metaphor in general, and the role of figurative speech in language.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1025
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberJUN
StatePublished - 26 Jun 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Meir and Cohen.


  • Autonomous And Dependent Elements
  • Double Mapping Constraint
  • Iconicity
  • Inhibition
  • Metaphor
  • Simile

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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