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ERIC Number: ED552658
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2012
Pages: 137
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: N/A
ISBN: 978-1-2679-7136-4
Language as a Window into the Mind: The Case of Space
Holmes, Kevin J.
ProQuest LLC, Ph.D. Dissertation, Emory University
Many cognitive scientists regard language as a rich source of evidence about the human mind. Much research over the past forty years has been driven by the assumption that words reveal underlying concepts. At the same time, cross-linguistic work has shown that languages differ dramatically in how they partition the world by name. To maintain the premise that words align with concepts, this linguistic diversity would have to be mirrored by corresponding conceptual diversity, consistent with the Whorfian hypothesis that language shapes thought. However, a number of recent findings are incompatible with this position: Where languages differ in their word meanings, conceptual differences are often lacking. Such evidence calls into question the notion that words are a direct route to concepts. In this dissertation, I examine how language might serve as a window into the mind despite the lack of alignment between words and concepts. In particular, I propose that similarities in meaning across multiple words, identifiable as cohesive clusters within the semantic structure of a domain, map onto prominent conceptual distinctions. I call this proposal the "semantic clusters hypothesis." According to this hypothesis, language is a better reflection of the conceptual system at the level of clusters of words than at the level of words themselves. A series of five experiments used space as a test bed for investigating the semantic clusters hypothesis. In these experiments, clusters of spatial terms identified through dimensionality reduction analyses of semantic similarity data (Experiment 1) aligned with conceptual distinctions influential in the nonlinguistic processing of spatial relations (Experiments 2-3). Further, clusters that were more differentiated at the semantic level were also more salient at the conceptual level (Experiments 4-5). These findings suggest that despite the failures of individual words to reveal concepts, aspects of semantic structure beyond the level of words may provide an illuminating window into the mind. The contributions of "macrosemantics," the approach to meaning exemplified by the present research, are discussed with respect to ongoing debates on the relationship between language and thought. [The dissertation citations contained here are published with the permission of ProQuest LLC. Further reproduction is prohibited without permission. Copies of dissertations may be obtained by Telephone (800) 1-800-521-0600. Web page:]
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Publication Type: Dissertations/Theses - Doctoral Dissertations
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A