Understanding Metonymies in Discourse

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Understanding Metonymies in Discourse

Metonymy and Metaphor

  • Similarities
  • Differences
    • In metaphor, characteristics of one concept are attributed to the other concept (“the internet is a gold mine”)
    • In metonymy, no attribution of characteristics is intended; the relationship is made for convenience of reference (“the ham sandwich is waiting for his check”)

What is metonymy good for? (Observations and speculations)

  • Using a metonym saves time (“The ham sandwich….”)
  • It can be cumbersome to give the full name of what you are referring to (“Which airlines fly from Boston to Denver?“)
  • You may not know enough to give the full name of what you are referring to (“My computer beeps when I hit the delete key.”)
  • You can avoid sounding wordy or pedantic (“The kettle is boiling.”)
  • The metonym may refer to the most salient attribute of an entity in the speaker and listener’s context (“The ham sandwich….”)
  • We use pronouns and acronyms for similar reasons

Computational Metonymy Resolution ― Statistics

  • Markert and Hahn cite the following:
  • “Stallard reports on a 27% performance improvement when metonymy resolution is incorporated into a question-answering system about airline reservations.”
  • “We found metonymic expressions in 15% of the utterances in a German language corpus of information technology test reports.”
  • “In a small-scale experiment [using the BNC] we found, e.g., that approximately 50% of 100 randomly drawn occurrences of ‘BMW’ referred metonymically to cars or motorcycles, while the other half referred literally to the company.”
  • The interdependence of anaphora and metonymy resolution is obvious in everyday language use, e.g., “The treaty has to be signed by the American government. The United States announced….”.

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