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Symposium on Exploring the pitfalls and promises of metaphor use in communication with low-literate audiences

Metaphors abound in public communication. Politicians describe the corona pandemic as a marathon, journalists discuss global warming in terms of a greenhouse, and pension funds present our future pension in terms of a journey. Because metaphors allow us to describe difficult concepts in terms of more familiar things, they are considered a powerful tool for effective communication. However, guidelines for communication aimed towards low-literate people typically advise against the use of metaphor, because low-literate people may experience difficulties in interpreting metaphorical uses of words. To date, little research has been conducted on this topic, and it consequently remains an open question whether metaphors help or hinder effective communication with low-literate audiences.

The lack of research on the potentially paradoxical role of metaphor is remarkable, given current scientific and societal debates about comprehensible language. This calls for the establishment of an interdisciplinary research agenda that addresses fundamental and applied questions about the promises and pitfalls of metaphor use in communication with low-literate audiences. To give such a research agenda a flying start, we are hosting a two-day symposium on 8 and 9 September, 2022 in Nijmegen, the Netherlands.

This symposium is funded by a KNAW Early Career Partnership

Call for Abstracts

The deadline for abstracts is 4 July 2022, noon CEST. A limited number of slots are available for early career researchers to present their research (ideas) on metaphor and functional literacy in a 10-minute lightning presentation. With this Call for Abstracts, we invite PhD students and postdoctoral researchers to submit their work. Abstracts may cover theoretical as well as empirical research, as long as they connect to the symposium theme.


Dr Gudrun Reijnierse - Assistant Professor Language Use and Persuasive Communication

Feel free to contact the organizers via filling in the form below.

Interdisciplinary symposium

The symposium brings together researchers from the fields of metaphor studies and literacy studies, as well as from adjacent disciplines such as communication studies, psychology, and health care. It will address questions such as “Which linguistic, conceptual and communicative characteristics of metaphor influence its effectiveness for lower- versus higher-literate audiences, and in which specific contexts and modalities?”, “Which processes related to language production and comprehension influence the effectiveness of metaphors for lower- versus higher-literate people?”, and “Which methods should we use to investigate the effect of metaphorical language on communication with low literates?”