Marianna Bolognesi is a senior assistant professor in linguistics at the University of Bologna, Italy, working on metaphor in thought, language and images.
The title of Marianna's RaAM 2020 keynote address is Creative, cutting edge, and bleeding edge metaphors.
Creativity is a driving force of the human mind, which enables us to innovate as well as to adapt to the environment. Having a vast cortical surface, our brains are predisposed for the setup of a virtually infinite number of associations between neurons which, at a higher level, result in creative associations between concepts in the mind. Such associations become increasingly more conventional if frequently activated. Thanks to this cognitive architecture, given a perceptual stimulus we can simulate in our minds conventional and creative options in response to it, by navigating old and new associative paths, before taking action toward a specific goal.
In creativity research, a creative output (an idea, a behavior, a linguistic manifestation, etc.) is the result of divergent and convergent thinking processes, in which the divergent phase provides ranges of possible associations, while the convergent phase selects an appropriate association that makes an effective output in relation to a goal, a context and a recipient.
In this talk, I will relate the construction and interpretation of creative metaphors in monolinguals and multilinguals to the model of divergent and convergent associative processes borrowed from creativity research. Metaphors, in this theoretical framework, are defined as associative constructs whose degree of creativity is determined by the amount of ‘traffic’ on the path that connects the metaphor terms.
I will then describe two behavioral studies that I conducted with colleagues. The first focuses on the processing of creative metaphors that are perceived to be ‘easy’ (e.g., beaches are grills) and ‘hard’ (e.g., silence is an apron), by English monolinguals and then by multilinguals English native speakers. The results show a higher degree of cognitive flexibility in multilinguals vs. monolinguals. The second study focuses on a comparison between monolinguals and multilinguals in their processing of literal expressions (e.g., a simple idea), familiar expressions based on conventional metaphors (e.g., a bright idea), creative extensions of conventional metaphors (e.g., a grey idea), and creative expressions based on novel conceptual metaphors (e.g., a damp idea).
In the second part of the talk I will discuss how divergent and convergent thinking processes apply to the construction of creative metaphors within the pictorial semiotic system. I will show that this system typically exploits perceptual features of the depicted entities to cue to conceptual similarities between metaphor terms. In other words, the perceptual mappings based on iconicity, represented in the image, trigger the construction of conceptual mappings, which activate conceptual features that are typically less concrete. The passage from perceptual to conceptual mappings, I will argue, can be explained by means of metonymic chains, which interact with metaphors within the pictorial mode to cue to abstract concepts that cannot be otherwise depicted.
I will conclude by discussing how creativity relates to learning, from a cognitive perspective: I will explain to what extent learning constrains creativity (for example, in education) and to what extent the result of learning (i.e., knowledge) is required for creative thinking.
From 2017-2019, Marianna worked at the University of Oxford within the AHRC-funded project Creative Multilingualism. Before then (2015-2017), she was a EU Marie Curie awarded postdoctoral fellow at the Metaphor Lab Amsterdam, where she is still coordinating the research area on Metaphor and Multimodality.
Her research bridges empirical (behavioral) approaches and computational modeling based on distributional semantics, as well as quantitative, corpus-based analyses with qualitative observations.
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