University of Oulu

Olkoniemi, H., Bertram, R., & Kaakinen, J. (2022). Knowledge is a river and education is like a stairway: An eye movement study on how L2 speakers process metaphors and similes. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 25(2), 307-320. doi:10.1017/S1366728921000869

Knowledge is a river and education is like a stairway : an eye movement study on how L2 speakers process metaphors and similes

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Author: Olkoniemi, Henri1,2; Bertram, Raymond2; Kaakinen, Johanna K.2,3
Organizations: 1Division of Psychology, Faculty of Education, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
2Department of Psychology and Speech-Language Pathology, University of Turku, Turku, Finland
3INVEST Research Flagship, University of Turku, 20014 Turku, Finland
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.3 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Cambridge University Press, 2022
Publish Date: 2022-02-22


Very little is known about the processes underlying second language (L2) speakers’ understanding of written metaphors and similes. Moreover, most of the theories on figurative language comprehension do not consider reader-related factors. In the study, we used eye-tracking to examine how native Finnish speakers (N = 63) read written English nominal metaphors (“education is a stairway”) and similes (“education is like a stairway”). Identical topic–vehicle pairs were used in both conditions. After reading, participants evaluated familiarity of each pair. English proficiency was measured using the Bilingual-language Profile Questionnaire and the Lexical Test for Advanced Learners of English. The results showed that readers were more likely to regress within metaphors than within similes, indicating that processing metaphors requires more processing effort than processing similes. The familiarity of a metaphor and L2 English proficiency modulated this effect. The results are discussed in the light of current theories on figurative language processing.

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Series: Bilingualism. Language and cognition
ISSN: 1366-7289
ISSN-E: 1469-1841
ISSN-L: 1366-7289
Volume: 25
Issue: 2
Pages: 307 - 320
DOI: 10.1017/S1366728921000869
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 515 Psychology
516 Educational sciences
6121 Languages
Funding: This research was supported by grants from the Ella and Georg Ehrnrooth Foundation and the Åbo Akademi University Foundation awarded to Henri Olkoniemi.
Copyright information: © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press. This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution and reproduction, provided the original article is properly cited.