1. Literal and figurative meaningWe call a sentence or a word meaning literal when it means what it affirms on the face of it, and nothing else. It would be important to highlight the fact that literalness is a quality which some words have achieved in the course of their history, since the first words were not born with it.
If a sentence or a word meaning is figurative, it expresses one thing and means another.
To illustrate this idea, we will use the example given by Deirdre Wilson and Robyn Carston in Metaphor and relevance. The literal meaning of the sentence Caroline is a princess is that Caroline is a female member of a royal family. On the other hand, the figurative meaning would be that Caroline is a somewhat spoiled or indulged girl, used to being given special treatment, having her wishes granted, having people defer to her, being exempt from ordinary, everyday chores, etc.
Literal or figurative meaning takes place at lexical (lexical items), grammatical (sentences) and pragmatic level (utterances). Lexemes can be word-lexemes, such as dog, word-forms, such as dogs, or phrasal lexemes, such as put up with, pig in a poke, red herring, etc. These kind of lexemes tend to be either grammatically or semantically idiomatic, or both: either their idiomatic distribution throughout the sentences of the language or their meaning is unpredictable from the syntactic and semantic properties of their constituents. When a semantically idiomatic phrasal lexeme, such as to kick the bucket, can be put into correspondence with a non-idiomatic phrasal expression, such as die, we way that the latter has a literal meaning, in contrast with the idiomatic, metaphorical or figurative meaning of the former.
1.1. Word levelFor Cruse, the default reading of a word is the one which comes to mind...