ATT-Meta Project: Metaphor, Metonymy and Mental States

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Metaphor and Metonymy

This project mainly concerns metaphor-based reasoning for metaphor understanding.

The project has recently become intensely concerned also with metonymy and particularly with the contentious issue of the relationship of metaphor to metonymy. That issue is the origin of one of two main avenues of investigation in the Leverhulme Trust project cited below, which is part of the overall ATT-Meta project.

A reasoning system called ATT-Meta has been implemented as a partial realization of theoretical principles developed in the project. The system performs some of the reasoning needed for understanding metaphorical utterances. The system does not currently take natural language input. Rather, it is given logical expressions that are simplified representations of the contents of small, hypothetical discourse fragments.

Mental States

A special concern in the project is the metaphorical (and metonymic) description of mental states, and with other interactions of metaphor/metonymy with mental states. These issues are central in the second main avenue of investigation in the Leverhulme Trust project cited below.

The ATT-Meta system performs both ordinary and metaphor-based reasoning about mental states. On the ordinary side, the central approach in ATT-Meta to reasoning about mental states is ``simulative'' reasoning. This is fully combined with non-simulative reasoning about mental states.

ATT-Meta can reason about nested belief states (X believes that Y doesn't believe that Z believes that ...) to any depth of nesting.

In the Leverhulme Trust project, the following main interactions between figurative language and mental states are at issue:

Uncertain and Graded Reasoning Framework

All of ATT-Meta's reasoning is done within a general-purpose rule-based framework for uncertain reasoning, which has no particular orientation towards mental states or metaphor. Uncertainty is expressed by means of qualitative certainty levels.

The system also has a simple, qualitative approach to gradedness of states of affairs (e.g. John liking Mary to a medium degree). The approach is based on a discrete scale of qualitative degrees.

ATT-Meta is distinctive in its thorough integration of belief reasoning and uncertainty, allowing the system to model agents doing uncertain reasoning about other agents' uncertain reasoning.

ATT-Meta is also distinctive in its detailed preoccupation with the involvement of uncertainty and gradedness in metaphor processing. Much metaphor doesn't so much contribute totally new, black-and-white information as to contribute to modifying the degree of intensity of or level of certainty about a state of affairs about which there may be other evidence.


The project is currently supported by Research Project Grant F/00 094/BE from the Leverhulme Trust [October 2010 to October 2013].

The project was previously supported by grants from from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council of the UK (EPSRC) [most recently grant no. EP/C538943/1 from 2005 to 2008] and grants from the National Science Foundation of the USA.

The ATT-Meta work was also an important aspect of the e-drama project (2003-2007), supported by a grant (no. RES-328-25-0009) from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) in association with the EPSRC and with the Department of Trade and Industry, under the PACCIT programme (People at the Centre of Communications and Information Technologies), which was part of the government's academic/industrial LINK funding scheme.



John Barnden


Mark Lee

Mihaela Popa


The project, system and theoretical approach are called ``ATT-Meta'' because they are concerned with propositional ATTitudes and with Metaphor-based reasoning.

The name is pronounced like ``atmeta'', not ``a-t-t-meta'' as some people have thought. If the name sounds like that of an Egyptian pharaoh, so much the better.

The system has no connection to any famous telecom company in the USA, as has also been supposed, believe it or not!


PAPERS on metaphor, with no particular orientation towards mental states.

PAPERS on the combined topic of mental states and metaphor.

PAPERS on mental states, with no metaphorical angle.

DATABANK containing examples of the use of metaphors of mind.

PAPERS on e-drama, with some attention to metaphor, from above ESRC/EPSRC/DTI grant.

(That list contain some items on metaphor that are not yet in the paper lists above, as well as some items not on metaphor.)

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Written by John Barnden

Last updated 18 November 2010