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Prof. Kathleen Ahrens
PolyU Scholars Hub

Prof. Kathleen Ahrens



Understanding lexical meaning, including evaluative meaning in context and the lexical processing of meaning in the brain, has been the driving impetus behind much of my work in language and cognition. In earlier research, I focused on the construction of a psycholinguistic theory of sense processing using reaction-time studies as well as the construction of a cognitive model to postulate processing differences between conceptual and novel metaphors.

My recent research has focused on corpora-based analyses, with a particular emphasis on examining the lexical choices made and the conceptual metaphors used by politicians with varying ideologies. This area of research contributes to understanding how these linguistic choices reflect a politician’s world conceptualization and their associated strategies to influence others to their points of view.

In addition to these corpora-based analyses, I also gather data from participants using web-based systems to ascertain their judgments about metaphors in order to better model how the language used in political speeches may influence reasoning about social, economic and political issues. I am interested in working with PhD students or post-docs on research projects that examine metaphor in experimental studies and corpora-based analyses.

Academic and Professional Experience

  • Professor, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (2017-present)
  • Professor, Language Centre, Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) (2008-2017)
  • Director, HKBU International Writers’ Workshop (IWW) (2012-2017)
  • Professor and Head, Language Centre, Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) (2008-2015)
  • Professor, Graduate Institute of Linguistics & Department of Foreign Languages & Literatures, National Taiwan University (2002-2008)
  • Director, Language Processing Laboratory, Graduate Institute of Linguistics, National Taiwan  University (1999-2008)
  • Associate Professor, Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, National Taiwan University (Joint appointment with the Graduate Institute of Linguistics starting in 1999) (1998-2002)
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, National Taiwan University (1996-1998)
  • Assistant Professor, Graduate Institute of Linguistics and Center for Cognitive Science, National Chung Cheng University (Chiayi, Taiwan) (1995-1996)

Teaching Areas

  • Critical Language and Cultural Studies
  • Creative Writing in New Media
  • Oral Communication and Public Speaking
  • Language and Politics
  • Language and Literature

Research Interests

  • Conceptual and Critical Metaphor Analysis
  • Corpus Linguistics
  • Language and Politics
  • Language and Creativity
  • Children’s and Young Adult Literature

Research Output

  1. Ahrens, Kathleen. (Ed.). (2009). Politics, Gender, and Conceptual Metaphors. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave-MacMillan. (Reprinted as a paperback in January 2016)
  1. Jiang, M., Shen, X., Ahrens, K. & Huang, C.-R (2021). Neologisms are Epidemic: Modeling the Life Cycle of Neologisms in China 2008-2016. PLoS One. 16(2): e0245984.

  2. Ahrens, Kathleen and Meng-han Jiang. (2020). Source Domain Verification Using Corpus-based Tools. Metaphor and Symbol. 35(1), 43-55.

  3. Zheng, Hui-heng, Dennis Tay, and Kathleen Ahrens. (2020). A Multifactorial Analysis of Metaphors in Political Discourse: Gendered Influence in Hong Kong Political Speeches. Metaphor and the Social World. 10(1), 139-166.

  4. Burgers, Christian & Kathleen Ahrens. (2020). Change in metaphorical framing over time: Metaphors of trade in 225 years of State of the Union addresses (1790-2014). Applied Linguistics, 41(2), 260-279. 

  5. Hou, Renkui, Chu-Ren Huang, Kathleen Ahrens, & Sophia Y.M. Lee. (2020). Linguistic Characteristics of Chinese Register Based on the Menzerath – Altmann Law and Text Clustering. Digital Scholarship in the Humanities. 35(1):54-66.

  6. Brosig, Benjamin, Foong Ha Yap and Kathleen Ahrens. (2019). Assertion, Presumption and Presupposition. Studies in Language. 43(4), 896-940. 

  7. Zhao, Qingqing, Chu-Ren Huang, and Kathleen Ahrens. (2019). Directionality of linguistic synesthesia in Mandarin: a corpus-based study. Lingua, 232.

  8. Chang, Paul Yu-Chun, Chien-Jer Charles Lin & Kathleen Ahrens. (2015). Conventionalization of lexical meanings and the role of metaphoricity: Processing of metaphorical polysemy using a cross-modal lexical priming task. Language and Linguistics16(4), 587-614.

  9. Skorczynska Sznajder, Hanna & Kathleen Ahrens. (2015). A corpus-based study of metaphor signaling variations in three genres. Text and Talk, 35(3), 359-381.

  10. Chung, Siaw-Fong, Kathleen Ahrens& Chu-Ren Huang. (2013). Ontologies and conceptual metaphors in English and Mandarin (in Chinese). 中英知識本體與概念隱喻. Special Issues on Ontology and Chinese Language Processing. Contemporary Linguistics《當代語言學》2, 195-213.

  11. Ahrens, Kathleen. (2012). Finding what you expect to see: Theoretical modeling in psycholinguistics. Journal of Social Sciences, 8(3), 372-380.

  12. Hong, Jia-fei, Kathleen Ahrens & Chu-ren Huang. (2012). Event structure of transitive verb: A MARVS perspective. International Journal of Computer Processing of Oriental Languages (IJCPOL), 24(1), 37-50.

  13. Hong, Jia-Fei, Sue-Jin Ker, Kathleen Ahrens& Chu-Ren Huang. (2011). Sense prediction study: Two corpus-driven linguistic approaches. International Journal of Computer Processing of Oriental Languages (IJCPOL), 23(3), 229-242.

  14. Ahrens, Kathleen. (2011). A worldwide network for children’s writers and illustrators. New Writing: The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writing, 8(3), 312-320.

  15. Lin, Chien-Jer Charles & Kathleen Ahrens. (2010). Ambiguity advantage revisited: Two meanings are better than one when accessing Chinese nouns. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 39(1), 1-19.

  16. Gong, Shu-Ping, Kathleen Ahrens, & Chu-Ren Huang. (2008). Chinese word sketch and mapping principles: A corpus-based study of conceptual metaphors using the BUILDING source domain. International Journal of Computer Processing of Oriental Languages, 21(2), 3-17.

  17. Hong, Jia-fei, Chu-Ren Huang, & Kathleen Ahrens. (2008). Event selection and coercion of two verbs of ingestion: A MARVS perspective. International Journal of Computer Processing of Oriental Languages, 21(2), 31-42.

  18. Chung, Siaw-Fong & Kathleen Ahrens. (2008). MARVS revisited: Incorporating sense distribution and mutual information into Near-Synonym analyses. Language and Linguistics. 9(2), 415-434.

  19. Lu, Louis Wei-lun & Kathleen Ahrens. (2008). Ideological influences on BUILDING metaphors in Taiwanese presidential speeches. Discourse and Society, 19(3), 383-408.

  20. Gong, Shu-Ping & Kathleen Ahrens. (2007). Processing conceptual metaphors in on-going discourse. Metaphor and Symbol, 22(4), 313-330.

  21. Ahrens, Kathleen, Ho-Ling Liu, Chia-Ying Lee, Shu-Ping Gong, Shin-Yi Fang & Yuan-Yu Hsu. (2007). Functional MRI of conventional and anomalous metaphors in Mandarin Chinese. Brain and Language, 100(2), 163-171.

  22. Ahrens, Kathleen. (2006). Using a small corpus to test linguistic hypotheses: Evaluating 'People' in the State of the Union Addresses. International Journal of Computational Linguistics and Chinese Language Processing, 11(4), 377-392.

  23. Ahrens, Kathleen. (2006). The effect of visual target presentation times on lexical ambiguity resolution. Language and Linguistics, 7(3), 677-696.

  24. Chung, Siaw-Fong, Kathleen Ahrens, & Chu-Ren Huang. (2005). Source domains as concept domains in metaphorical expressions. International Journal of Computational Linguistics and Chinese Language Processing, 10(4), 553-570.

  25. Ahrens, Kathleen. (2004). Using picture books in the language classroom. English works: The resource magazine for English teachers (in Chinese). 15,18-20. Also reprinted in Teaching English with Picture Books and Stories. (2006). East-West Publishers.

  26. Ahrens, Kathleen. (2003). Verbal integration: The interaction of participant roles and sentential argument structure. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 32(5), 497-516.

  27. Ahrens, Kathleen, Chu-Ren Huang & Shirley Chuang. (2003). Sense and meaning facets in verbal semantics: A MARVS perspective. Language and Linguistics, 4(3), 468-484.

  28. Huang, Chu-Ren & Kathleen Ahrens. (2003). Individuals, kinds and events: Classifier coercion of noun.Language Sciences, 25(4), 353 - 373.

  29. Ahrens, Kathleen & Chu-Ren Huang. (2002). Time passing is motion. Language & Linguistics, 3(3), 491-519.

  30. Ahrens, Kathleen. (2001). On-line sentence comprehension of ambiguous verbs in Mandarin. Journal of East Asian Linguistics, 10, 337-358.

  31. Ahrens, Kathleen. (2001). “How can I help my child learn English?” Language Testing and Training Newsletter, Vol. XX, No. 12.

  32. Huang, Chu-Ren,Kathleen Ahrens, Li-Li Chang, Keh-Jiann Chen, Mei-Chun Liu & Mei-Chih Tsai. (2000). The module-attribute representation of verbal semantics: From semantic to argument structure. In Yung-O Biq. (Ed.), Special issue on Chinese verbal semantics. International Journal of Computational Linguistics & Chinese Language Processing, 5(1), 19-46.

  33. Huang, Chu-Ren & Kathleen Ahrens. (1999). The function and category of gei in Mandarin ditransitive constructions. Journal of Chinese Linguistics, 27(2), 1-26.

  34. Ahrens, Kathleen, Li-Li Chang, Keh-Jiann Chen & Chu-Ren Huang. (1998). Meaning representation and meaning instantiation for Chinese nominals. International Journal of Computational Linguistics and Chinese Language Processing, 3(1), 45-60.

  35. Huang, Chu-Ren, Kathleen Ahrens & Keh-jiann Chen. (1998). A data-driven approach to the mental lexicon: Two studies on Chinese corpus linguistics. Bulletin of the Institute of History and Philology, 69(1), 151-180.

  36. Huang, Chu-Ren, Zhao-ming Gao, Kathleen Ahrens & Wen-Jen Wei. (1998). Argument structure and empty-expletives: A study of event-evaluative predicates in Chinese. Benjamin K. T’sou ed. Studia Linguistica Serica. 401-414.

  37. Tsai, Mei-Chih, Chu-Ren Huang, Keh-Jiann Chen & Kathleen Ahrens. (1998). Towards a representation of verbal semantics – An approach based on near synonyms. International Journal of Computational Linguistics and Chinese Language Processing. 3(1), 61-74.

  38. Ahrens, Kathleen & David Swinney. (1995). Participant roles and the processing of verbs during sentence comprehension. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research. 24(6), 533-547.

  39. Ahrens, Kathleen. (1994). Classifier production in normals and aphasics. Journal of Chinese Linguistics. 22(2), 203-248.

  40. Lin, Ying-chin & Kathleen Ahrens. (1992). Research on a Tangut translation of “The Forest of Classes” (In Chinese). The Continent Magazine. 84(5), 1-8.

  1. Todorova, Marija and Kathleen Ahrens. (2020). Translation and Development: The Language of Foreign Aid. In Christine Ji (Ed.), Oxford Handbook of Translation Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  2. Ahrens, Kathleen. (2019). First Lady, Secretary of State and Presidential Candidate: A Comparative Study of the Role-Dependent Use of Metaphor in Politics. In Julien Perrez, Min Reuchamps and Paul Thibodeau (Eds.) Variation in Political Metaphor. (pp. 13-34). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

  3. Ahrens Kathleen & Chung, Siaw-Fong (2019). Metaphors in Chinese. In Chu-Ren Huang, Zhuo Jing-Schmidt, and Barbara Meisterernst (Eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Applied Chinese Linguistics. (pp. 364-378). New York and London: Routledge.

  4. Huang, Chu-Ren, Kathleen Ahrens, Tania Becker, Regina Llamas, King-fai Tam, and Barbara Meisterernst. (2019). Chinese language arts: The role of language and linguistic devices in literary and artistic expressions. In Chu-Ren Huang, Zhuo Jing-Schmidt, and Barbara Meisterernst (Eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Applied Chinese Linguistics. (pp. 237-255). New York and London: Routledge.

  5. Ahrens, Kathleen. (2018). Beehives and Wet Markets: Expat Metaphors of Hong Kong. In Jason S. Polley, Vinton W.K. Poon, and Lian-Hee Wee (Eds.), Cultural Conflict in Hong Kong: Angles on a Coherent Imaginary. (pp. 35-52). London: Palgrave Macmillan.  

  6. Ahrens, Kathleen. (2017). Metaphor processing in Chinese. In Rint Sybesma, Wolfgang Behr, Zev Handel & C.T. James Huang (Eds.),Encyclopedia of Chinese language and linguistics. Leiden: Brill.

  7. Ahrens, Kathleen & Chu-Ren Huang. (2016). Classifiers. In Chu-Ren Huang & Shi-ting Xu (Eds.), A Reference Grammar of Chinese Language (pp. 169-198). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  8. Ahrens, Kathleen. (2015). Semantic processing: Access, ambiguity, and metaphor. In William S-Y Wang & Chaofen Sun (Eds.),Oxford handbook of Chinese linguistics (pp. 666-675). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  9. Ahrens, Kathleen. (2013). Writing for children and young adults. In Graeme Harper (Ed.),Wiley  Blackwell companion to creative writing (pp. 56-70). New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell.

  10. Ahrens, Kathleen. (2011). Picture books: Where literature appreciation begins. In Bettina Kuemmerling-Meibauer (Ed.),Emergent literacy. Children's books from 0 to 3 (pp. 77-89). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

  11. Ahrens, Kathleen. (2011). Examining conceptual metaphor models through lexical frequency patterns: A case study of U.S. presidential speeches. In Hans-Joerg Schmid (Ed.),Windows to the mind. Series: Applications of cognitive linguistics (pp. 167-184). Berlin: Mouton De Gruyter.

  12. Ahrens, Kathleen. (2010). Mapping principles for conceptual metaphors. In Cameron Lynne, Alice Deignan, Graham Low & Zazie Todd (Eds.),Researching and applying metaphor in the real world(pp. 185-207). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

  13. Ahrens, Kathleen. (2009). Conceptual metaphors (in Chinese). In I-wen Su & Yung-O Biq (Eds.),Language, culture, and cognition (pp. 55-81). Taipei: National Taiwan University Press.

  14. Ahrens, Kathleen. (2009). Analysing conceptual metaphors in political language. In Ahrens, Kathleen (Ed.),Politics, gender, and conceptual metaphors (pp. 1-5). Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave-MacMillan.

  15. Ahrens, Kathleen & Sophia Lee. (2009). Gender versus politics: When conceptual models collide in the U.S. Senate. In Ahrens, Kathleen (Ed.),Politics, gender, and conceptual metaphors (pp. 62-82). Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave-MacMillan.

  16.  Huang, Chu-Ren, Siaw-Fong Chung & Kathleen Ahrens. (2006). An ontology-based exploration of knowledge systems for metaphor. In Kishore, Rajiv, Ram Ramesh, & Raj Sharman (Eds.),Ontologies: A handbook of principles, concepts and applications in information systems (pp. 489-517). Berlin: Springer.

  17.  Lin, Chienjer Charles &Kathleen Ahrens. (2005). How many meanings does a word have? Meaning estimation in Chinese and English. In James Menitt & William S-Y Wang (Eds.),Language acquisition, change and emergence: Essays in evolutionary linguistics (pp. 437-464). Hong Kong: City University of Hong Kong Press.

  18. Ahrens, Kathleen. (2002). Timing issues in lexical ambiguity resolution. In J. Nakayama (Ed.),Sentence processing in East Asian languages (pp. 1-26). Stanford: CSLI.

  19. Ahrens, Kathleen. (1999). The mutability of noun and verb meaning. In Y. Yin et al. (Eds.),Chinese languages and linguistics V: Interactions in language (pp. 335-548). Taipei: Academia Sinica.

  20.  Huang, Chu-Ren, Li-Ping Chang,Kathleen Ahrens & Chao-Jan Chen. (1999). The interaction of constructional meaning and lexical semantics (In Chinese). In Y. Yin et al. (Eds.),Chinese languages and linguistics V: Interactions in language (pp. 413-438). Taipei: Academia Sinica.

  21. Ahrens, Kathleen. (1998). Lexical ambiguity resolution: Language, tasks and timing. In Dieter Hillert (Ed.),Syntax and semantics, Volume 31. Sentence processing: A cross-linguistic perspective (pp. 11-31). Academic Press.


  • Principal Investigator, Metaphor, Gender, and Persuasion: Influencing judgments through source domain manipulation. Hong Kong University Grants Council General Research Fund (Project No.: 15602420). (2021-23)

  • Principal Investigator, The Role of Metaphor in Reasoning. Hong Kong University Grants Council General Research Fund (Project No.: 12600317). (2018-2020)

  • Principal Investigator, Children’s Literature in English Language Teaching for Primary

  • Students in Hong Kong (CLELT), Standing Committee on Language Education and Research (SCOLAR) Research and Development Project. (2018-2020)

  • Principal Investigator, Cross-linguistic Variation in Conceptual Metaphors. Hong Kong University Grants Council General Research Fund (2015-2017)

  • Co-Investigator, Processing Conventional Metaphor sentences, Novel Metaphor sentences and Anomalous Metaphor Sentences: An Event-Related Potential Study. National Science Council, Taiwan. Principal Investigator Dr. S.-P. Gong. (2009-2011)

  • Co-Investigator, Modeling and Measurement of Meaning (M3). National Science Council, Taiwan. NSC (An ANR-NSC Bilateral Collaborative Project with University of Toulouse). Principal Investigators: Prof. C-R. Huang & Prof. Bruno Gaume. (2010)

  • Co-Investigator, Knowledge Yielding Ontologies for Transition-based Organization (KYOTO). National Science Council, Taiwan. Principal Investigators: Prof. Chu-Ren Huang & Prof. Shu-Chuan Tseng. 2008-2010)

  • Principal Investigator: (08), Co-Investigator (09-11): Cognitive and Neuro-Imaging Studies on Metaphor and Text Comprehension, National Science Council, Taiwan. (2008-2011)

  • Principal Investigator, The Effect of Context on the Processing of Novel and Conventional Metaphors, National Science Council, Taiwan. (2007)

  • Principal Investigator, Neuroimaging and Reaction Time Studies on Metaphor Comprehension, National Science Council, Taiwan. (2005-2006)

  • Principal Investigator, Sense Ability: Psycho- and Neuro- Linguistic Processing, National Science Council, Taiwan. (2002-2005)

  • Principal Investigator, Metaphor Mapping and Knowledge Representation: Principles and Processing, National Science Council, Taiwan. (2000-2002)

  • Principal Investigator, Sense, Ambiguity, and Polysemy: Empirical Approaches to Delimiting Senses, National Science Council, Taiwan. (1997-2000)

  • Principal Investigator, Frequency and Conceptual Structure: The Number of Argument Variables versus the Number of Participant Roles, National Science Council, Taiwan. (1996-1997)

  • Principal Investigator, The Time Course of Ambiguity Resolution in On-Line Sentence Processing, National Taiwan University Research Project Funding. (1996-1997)

  • Principal Investigator, Modularity versus Interaction: Evidence from On-Line Sentence Processing in Chinese, National Chung Cheng University Research Project Funding. (1995-1996)

Esteem Measures

  • Fellow, Hong Kong Academy of Humanities

  • Editorial Board, Lingua Sinica, Journal of Pragmatics, Metaphor and Social World

  • Board of Advisors, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators ('08-'21)

  • Faculty Service Award, HKBU (2014)

  • National Taiwan University Research Award (2007)

  • Dissertation Advisor Award for Doctoral Dissertation of the Year, Association of Computational Linguistics and Chinese Language Processing (Siaw-Fong Chung) (2007)

  • Fu-Ssu Nien Young Scholar Research Award, National Taiwan University (2005)

  • Outstanding Teacher Award, National Taiwan University (2005-2006)

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