Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies

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A fire station in your body: Metaphors in educational texts on HIV/AIDS

Carel Jansen, Marloes van Nistelrooij, Kim Olislagers, Maartje van Sambeek, Leon de Stadler


This study focuses on metaphors used in South African HIV/AIDS education to explain the struggle of the immune system when it becomes infected with HIV. Three versions of an educational text on HIV/AIDS were presented to a total of 543 learners from secondary schools in the Western Cape. Each learner was given either a text version including a deliberate metaphor that had been selected with the purpose of changing the reader’s perspective on the immune system (the immune system being presented metaphorically either as an army or as a fire brigade), or a text version without such a deliberate metaphor. The effects of these three text versions on understanding as  perceived by the learners themselves, on attractiveness and on persuasiveness were investigated. Distinctions were made between respondents who apparently had recognised a metaphor in the text version with which they were presented and those who had not. No effects of text version on perceived understanding, attractiveness and  persuasiveness were found. There were clear effects, however, of metaphor recognition. Readers who appeared to have recognised a metaphor found the text version they had read more understandable, attractive and persuasive than other readers. No interaction effects of text version and metaphor recognition were found.

Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 2010, 28(2): 133–139
AJOL African Journals Online