The use of metaphor in cross-linguistic and cross-cultural communication

Professor Jeannette Littlemore is working with researchers in Spain, Holland, Ireland and Sweden on the use of verbal and gestural metaphor in cross-cultural communication.

This work has been funded by the British Council (with Professor Littlemore as Principal Researcher) and the Spanish Ministry of Education. She and her team are exploring the ways in which metaphor is used in academic tutorials involving international students studying at English-speaking universities. They are particularly interested in the ways in which metaphor and gesture are used in different types of exchanges. They are looking at how different interlocutors appropriate each other’s use of metaphor and gesture, and the ways in which they use gesture to help them structure and communicate their own ideas.

Results so far have revealed a range of metaphors being used successfully and less successfully. They have shown how metaphor is used to develop shared understanding of abstract concepts but that it can present problems’ leading at times to misunderstandings and a tendency in students to move onto apparently unrelated topics. In order to avoid the pitfalls of metaphor use, Dr Littlemore and the research team have made a number of recommendations for making the most of the potential that metaphor has to offer in academic tutorials. These recommendations are now available (with accompanying videos) on the British Council website.