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Defining Figurative Language

  • Date Submitted: 02/28/2011 06:31 AM
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Using figurative language to expand students’ vocabulary Gillian Lazar

Figurative language is an area often neglected in the teaching of vocabulary. This article examines some definitions, and suggests examples of types of figurative language to which students may usefully be exposed in the course of their learning. Arising from these examples, some implications for the teaching of figurative language are then discussed. These are followed by sample materials representing three different strategies for helping students to understand and generate figurative language.

Defining figurative language

Over the last decade, books for both teachers and students have focused on ways of organizing. presenting, and practising new vocabulary to make it accessible and memorable for students (see, for example, Gairns and Redman 1986; Redman and Ellis 1989-91: Harmer and Rossner 1991 and 1992; Wellman 1992; McCarthy and O’Dell 1994). Figurative awareness But what dictionary

language. and the ways in which we can increase student of it, has perhaps been given less attention than it deserves. exactly is figurative language? Here is a definition from a for learners of English:

adj (of a word, phrase, meaning, etc.) used in some way other than the main or usual meaning, to suggest a picture in the mind or make a comparison (Longman Dictionary of English Language and Culture 1992: 475). This definition ties in with the notion of metaphor (one type of figurative language) as defined in traditional rhetoric. The word itself derives from the Greek ‘meta’ expressing change, and ‘pherein’ meaning ‘to carry’ (Lawrence 1972: 11). In other words, metaphors involve a ‘carrying across’ of meaning from one object to another (ibid.). Thus, a comparison is made between two essentially dissimilar things by identifying one with the other. So, in that (by now clichéd) poetic metaphor ‘My love is a rose’, a comparison is made between the loved one and a rose. where the...


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