NotesFAQContact Us
Search Tips
Peer reviewed Peer reviewed
Direct linkDirect link
ERIC Number: EJ836729
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2009-Jun
Pages: 38
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 0
ISSN: ISSN-0010-0285
Of Substance: The Nature of Language Effects on Entity Construal
Li, Peggy; Dunham, Yarrow; Carey, Susan
Cognitive Psychology, v58 n4 p487-524 Jun 2009
Shown an entity (e.g., a plastic whisk) labeled by a novel noun in neutral syntax, speakers of Japanese, a classifier language, are more likely to assume the noun refers to the substance (plastic) than are speakers of English, a count/mass language, who are instead more likely to assume it refers to the object kind [whisk; Imai, M., & Gentner, D. (1997). A cross-linguistic study of early word meaning: Universal ontology and linguistic influence. "Cognition, 62", 169-200]. Five experiments replicated this language type effect on entity construal, extended it to quite different stimuli from those studied before, and extended it to a comparison between Mandarin speakers and English speakers. A sixth experiment, which did not involve interpreting the meaning of a noun or a pronoun that stands for a noun, failed to find any effect of language type on entity construal. Thus, the overall pattern of findings supports a non-Whorfian, language on language account, according to which sensitivity to lexical statistics in a count/mass language leads adults to assign a novel noun in neutral syntax the status of a count noun, influencing construal of ambiguous entities. The experiments also document and explore cross-linguistically universal factors that influence entity construal, and favor Prasada's [Prasada, S. (1999). Names for things and stuff: An Aristotelian perspective. In R. Jackendoff, P. Bloom, & K. Wynn (Eds.), "Language, logic, and concepts" (pp. 119-146). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press] hypothesis that features indicating non-accidentalness of an entity's form lead participants to a construal of object kind rather than substance kind. Finally, the experiments document the age at which the language type effect emerges in lexical projection. The details of the developmental pattern are consistent with the lexical statistics hypothesis, along with a universal increase in sensitivity to material kind.
Elsevier. 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, FL 32887-4800. Tel: 877-839-7126; Tel: 407-345-4020; Fax: 407-363-1354; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Research
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A