The research reported here examined how Spanish-English bilinguals interpret novel metaphors, detect humor, and uncover links between distantly related words. Study 1 found that judgments of the literal truth of statements were slowed by literally false metaphoric statements in bilinguals and monolinguals alike. Study 2 found that when deciding whether sentences were jokes or not jokes, bilinguals tended to be more accurate than monolinguals. Study 3 found that bilinguals’ success in arriving at solutions to remote associate problems was affected by their prior experience in informal translation (language brokering) and by their Spanish proficiency: Although no group differences were found in English, language brokers performed better than non-brokers on Spanish remote associates. It is suggested that the study of creative language use can inform the study of bilingual figurative language processing and that future research more systematically probe individual differences among bilinguals in creative language processing.
Keywords: bilingualism, language brokering, creativity, joke detection, metaphoric processing
Inquiry into how bilingual speakers perceive, acquire, produce, and interpret figurative language (metaphors, idioms, proverbs, jokes, etc.) opens up potentially new ways of conceptualizing both the varieties of language use and of language users. In particular, the study of figurative language processing brings into the foreground social, affective, and aesthetic dimensions of language use and offers new ways of examining – and complicating – the process of sense-making in which all individuals engage, whether they are single or multiple language users.