Centrum för kognitiv semiotik (CCS)

Humanistiska och teologiska fakulteterna | Lunds universitet


On the Iconic Attitude in the Understanding of the Pictorial Metaphor

Sara Lenninger (Centre for Cognitive Semiotics, Lund)

The use of metaphor is pervasive in human communication (Stites & Özçaliskan, 2012). Developmental studies on metaphor use (and understanding) link to cognitive theories on metaphorical thinking (Billow, 1975; Lakoff & Johnson, 1980; Kogan et al., 1980) and to semiotic theories concerning meaning relations and sign use. Children’s understanding of pictorial metaphor is a research field that has been less studied. My work focuses on children’s semiotic development and especially on the development of picture understanding (Lenninger, 2012).

A critical aspect of picture understanding involves grasping the use and potentiality of similarity relations as resources in communication. Because of their primary iconic relations (Sonesson, 2008), pictures have adequate meanings that can be shared in-­‐between very young children and their caretakers. However, based on the same argument not all meanings in a picture are necessarily shared(Lenninger, 2012).

In semiotic theory the subdivision by C.S. Peirce of hypoicons into image, diagram and metaphor could be construed as corresponding to different instances of iconic attitudes (Lenninger, 2012) directed to an iconic ground. Iconic grounds are, essentially, moods that are provided for by different kinds of similarity relations between expression and content. The inclusive, and dynamic, hierarchy approach proposed here suggests the possibility of there being three main iconic attitudes that determine the subjects’ understanding of the iconic sign. This approach to dominance relations in the sub-­‐iconic level is in congruence with the idea that signs in general always must be understood as combinations of iconic, indexical and conventional traits.

  • Billow, R. (1975). A Cognitive Developmental Study of Metaphor Comprehension. Developmental psychology, 11(4), 415-­‐423.
  • Kogan, N., Connor, K., Gross, A., & Fava, F. (1980). Understanding visual metaphor: Developmental and individual differences. Monographs of the society for research in child developmental serial, No.183, Vol. 45 (1).
  • Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Lenninger, S. (2012). When similarity qualifies as a sign. Doctoral thesis, department of semiotics, Lund University.
  • Sonesson, G., (2008). Prolegomena to a general theory of iconicity. Considerations on language, gesture, and pictures. In K. Willems & L. De Cuypere (eds.) Naturalness and iconicity in language (pp.47-­‐72). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Stites, L., j., & Özçaliskan, S. (2012). On Learning to Draw the Distinction between Physical and Metaphorical Motion: Is Metaphor an Early Emerging Cognitive and Linguistic Capacity? Journal of Child Language, 32, 291–318.