Idioms show effects of meaning relatedness and dominance similar to those seen for ambiguous words

  • Evelyn MilburnEmail author
  • Tessa Warren
Brief Report


Does the language comprehension system resolve ambiguities for single- and multiple-word units similarly? We investigate this question by examining whether two constructs with robust effects on ambiguous word processing – meaning relatedness and meaning dominance – have similar influences on idiom processing. Eye tracking showed that: (1) idioms with more related figurative and literal meanings were read faster, paralleling findings for ambiguous words, and (2) meaning relatedness and meaning dominance interacted to drive eye movements on idioms just as they do on polysemous ambiguous words. These findings are consistent with a language comprehension system that resolves ambiguities similarly regardless of literality or the number of words in the unit.


Figurative language Ambiguity Idioms Ambiguous words Eye movements and reading 



We thank Scott Fraundorf for statistical help and Sindhu Chennupati, Kyra Samuda, and Li Yi for stimulus creation.


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Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Norwegian University of Science and TechnologyTrondheimNorway
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA

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