It's a trite, silly differentiation, I know, but hear me out.
In designing my author's craft unit, I had to decide which elements of figurative language to teach my freshmen. While examining the existing materials for the unit from teachers past, I noted what I consider a discrepancy of definition. Now, mind you, this discrepancy is only an issue if one adheres to the following definition of figurative language: a form of language used to make comparisons that help readers understand foreign objects, feelings, and people by relating them to more familiar or common elements of life.
One can easily see how metaphor, simile, personification and hyperbole fit into this category. They are specific means of encoding by other means than literal exposition. But much of what I learned throughout my secondary ed career about figurative language doesn't ft so nicely.
First, this definition led me to eliminate a variety of other literary devices commonly categorized as figurative language like onomatopoeia and alliteration, lingual tricks more appropriately labeled as poetic maneuvers than figurative comparisons.
Next, I began to think about the difference between personification and anthropomorphism. If personification fits the figurative language definition, than it's primary role is the increasing or nuancing of understanding of a nonhuman object, animal or idea.
- Justice is blind
- The sun smiled upon us
- My body decided to shut down
This is anthropomorphism: having non human characters behave like humans (they use symbolic language, they have psychologically complex and self-aware personalities, their cultures and infrastructures and motivations mirror our own). Their human qualities are not in primarily service of a comparison to help readers understand something else.
Do I blame my 6th grade ELA teacher for telling me that stories in which animals behave like humans are examples of personification? No. Considering the gap in my teeth at the time, I wouldn't have even wanted to attempt verbalizing the word anthropomorphism. But - I was bored and wanted to make public my completely unnecessary semantic distinction.
And, as always, I could be totally wrong.