Cultural Insights from the Use of Metaphors Program

The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) often selects its research efforts through the Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) process. This Request for Information (RFI) provides information relevant to a possible future IARPA program, so that feedback from potential participants can be considered prior to the issuance of a BAA. Respondents are invited to provide comments on the content of this announcement to include suggestions for improving the scope of a possible solicitation to ensure that every effort is made to address adequately the scientific and technical challenges described below. Responses to this request may be used to support development of, and subsequently be incorporated into, a future IARPA Program BAA and therefore must be available for unrestricted public distribution. The following sections of this announcement contain details of the scope of technical efforts of interest along with instructions for the submission of responses.

Background & Scope

Metaphors are generally known as poetic or rhetorical devices that are unique and therefore can only be listed as creative instances of language use. Recent research, however, especially in the neurosciences and cognitive linguistics, has established metaphorical processes as a fundamental cognitive mechanism that begins in infancy. As humans mature, they combine metaphors in increasingly complex ways and expand their use to reflect social and cultural norms. As yet, metaphorical language has not been systematically accounted for by the Natural Language Processing community; as a result, automated resources are limited.

Much of the current characterization of societal attitudes or mindsets is produced by social scientists through observation, polling or impressionistic associations. Although these approaches provide valuable insights, unconscious views and attitudes are often overlooked or lost. A deep understanding of the contrasts among worldviews is rarely achieved.

Communication theory also attempts to characterize how opinions and beliefs are shared and propagated. Theorists observe how messages are transmitted and understood, through the media, for example, but the focus is generally on the structure of the message and less on the source of the message. It is only within the last few years that 2 communication theorists have begun to consider mental processes and metaphorical thinking as crucial to image making, for example.

IARPA is interested in the premise that analysis of how people use metaphor in oral and written communication can provide valuable insights into the similarities and differences in worldview across cultures and subcultures. IARPA is seeking information about the challenges associated with the science and technologies related to the discovery and analysis of metaphor usage. Respondents are encouraged to be as succinct as possible while providing specific information that addresses the following issues. Areas of specific interest include, but are not limited to:

  1. Advanced techniques and technologies that will discover, collect and capture linguistic metaphors;
  2. Association of metaphors with abstract concepts;
  3. Categorization of metaphors;
  4. Contrast of metaphors across cultures, subcultures and social context;
  5. Methods and processes for the interpretation(s) of the use of metaphor;
  6. Ideas for testing and evaluating the use of metaphor, including experimental designs and social science approaches to evaluation.

Also of interest are methodologies that could build on the use of metaphors to provide insights into larger narratives/issues.

IARPA is not interested in the following dimensions of metaphor:

  1. Translation of metaphors across languages;
  2. Collection and storage of linguistic metaphors with no generalization of their use;
  3. Issues associated with the teaching of metaphors; and
  4. Metaphor research that does not involve or result in insights into the use of metaphor.

The responses to this RFI will be used to help in the planning of a one- to two-day workshop on the use of metaphor, the result of which may justify a competitive program. The selection of topics and setting of the agenda of this workshop will be informed by the responses, with respondents being potentially invited to participate and present at this workshop. It is anticipated that this workshop will be held in the Fall of 2009. A separate workshop announcement will be posted with further details.

Preparation Instructions to Respondents

IARPA solicits respondents to submit ideas related to this topic for use by the Government in formulating a potential program. IARPA requests that submittals briefly and clearly describe the potential approach or concept, outline critical technical issues, and comment on the expected performance, robustness, and estimated cost of the proposed approach. This announcement contains all of the information required to submit a response. No additional forms, kits, or other materials are needed.

IARPA appreciates responses from all capable and qualified sources from within and outside of the US. Responses have the following formatting requirements:

  1. A one page cover sheet that identifies the title, organization(s), respondent's technical and administrative points of contact - including names, addresses, phone and fax numbers, and email addresses of all co-authors, and clearly indicating its association with IARPA-RFI-09-04.
  2. A substantive, focused, one-half page executive summary;
  3. A description (limited to 5 pages in minimum 12 point Times New Roman font, appropriate for single-sided, single-spaced 8.5 by 11 inch paper, with 1-inch margins) of the technical challenges and suggested approach(es);
  4. A list of citations (any significant claims or reports of success must be accompanied by citations, and reference material MUST be attached);
  5. Optionally, a single overview briefing chart graphically depicting the key ideas.


Disclaimers and Important Notes

This is an RFI issued solely for information and new program planning purposes and does not constitute a solicitation. Respondents are advised that IARPA is under no obligation to acknowledge receipt of the information received or provide feedback to respondents with respect to any information submitted under this RFI.

Responses to this notice are not offers and cannot be accepted by the Government to form a binding contract. Respondents are solely responsible for all expenses associated with responding to this RFI. It is the respondents' responsibility to ensure that the submitted material has been approved for public release by the organization that funded whatever research is referred to in their response.

The Government does not intend to award a contract on the basis of this RFI or to otherwise pay for the information solicited nor is the Government obligated to issue a solicitation based on responses received. Neither proprietary nor classified concepts or information should be included in the submission. Input on technical aspects of the responses may be solicited by IARPA from non-Government consultants/experts who are bound by appropriate non-disclosure requirements.


For information contact:


Responses Due: September 9, 2009 4:00 pm Eastern