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Arbitrary symbolism in natural language revisited: when word forms carry meaning.

Reilly J, Westbury C, Kean J, Peelle JE - PLoS ONE (2012)

Bottom Line: Participants consistently associated increased word length and diminished wordlikeness with abstract concepts.In Experiment 3, participants completed a semantic decision task (i.e., abstract or concrete) for real words varied by length and concreteness.Participants were more likely to misclassify longer, inflected words (e.g., "apartment") as abstract and shorter uninflected abstract words (e.g., "fate") as concrete.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, United States of America. jjreilly@phhp.ufl.edu

ABSTRACT
Cognitive science has a rich history of interest in the ways that languages represent abstract and concrete concepts (e.g., idea vs. dog). Until recently, this focus has centered largely on aspects of word meaning and semantic representation. However, recent corpora analyses have demonstrated that abstract and concrete words are also marked by phonological, orthographic, and morphological differences. These regularities in sound-meaning correspondence potentially allow listeners to infer certain aspects of semantics directly from word form. We investigated this relationship between form and meaning in a series of four experiments. In Experiments 1-2 we examined the role of metalinguistic knowledge in semantic decision by asking participants to make semantic judgments for aurally presented nonwords selectively varied by specific acoustic and phonetic parameters. Participants consistently associated increased word length and diminished wordlikeness with abstract concepts. In Experiment 3, participants completed a semantic decision task (i.e., abstract or concrete) for real words varied by length and concreteness. Participants were more likely to misclassify longer, inflected words (e.g., "apartment") as abstract and shorter uninflected abstract words (e.g., "fate") as concrete. In Experiment 4, we used a multiple regression to predict trial level naming data from a large corpus of nouns which revealed significant interaction effects between concreteness and word form. Together these results provide converging evidence for the hypothesis that listeners map sound to meaning through a non-arbitrary process using prior knowledge about statistical regularities in the surface forms of words.

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Nonword Concreteness Agreement.
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pone-0042286-g001: Nonword Concreteness Agreement.

Mentions: Figure 1 illustrates the trend toward abstractness as nonwords increased in length and phonological complexity while simultaneously decreasing in phonological neighborhood density. As the reader will note, this relationship was markedly nonlinear as confirmed by the polynomial trend analysis which best fit a cubic function to the data [cubic trend r = .90], reflecting the fact that participants did not classify the shortest nonwords as concrete.


Arbitrary symbolism in natural language revisited: when word forms carry meaning.

Reilly J, Westbury C, Kean J, Peelle JE - PLoS ONE (2012)

Nonword Concreteness Agreement.
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

Show All Figures
getmorefigures.php?uid=PMC3412842&req=5

pone-0042286-g001: Nonword Concreteness Agreement.
Mentions: Figure 1 illustrates the trend toward abstractness as nonwords increased in length and phonological complexity while simultaneously decreasing in phonological neighborhood density. As the reader will note, this relationship was markedly nonlinear as confirmed by the polynomial trend analysis which best fit a cubic function to the data [cubic trend r = .90], reflecting the fact that participants did not classify the shortest nonwords as concrete.

Bottom Line: Participants consistently associated increased word length and diminished wordlikeness with abstract concepts.In Experiment 3, participants completed a semantic decision task (i.e., abstract or concrete) for real words varied by length and concreteness.Participants were more likely to misclassify longer, inflected words (e.g., "apartment") as abstract and shorter uninflected abstract words (e.g., "fate") as concrete.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, United States of America. jjreilly@phhp.ufl.edu

ABSTRACT
Cognitive science has a rich history of interest in the ways that languages represent abstract and concrete concepts (e.g., idea vs. dog). Until recently, this focus has centered largely on aspects of word meaning and semantic representation. However, recent corpora analyses have demonstrated that abstract and concrete words are also marked by phonological, orthographic, and morphological differences. These regularities in sound-meaning correspondence potentially allow listeners to infer certain aspects of semantics directly from word form. We investigated this relationship between form and meaning in a series of four experiments. In Experiments 1-2 we examined the role of metalinguistic knowledge in semantic decision by asking participants to make semantic judgments for aurally presented nonwords selectively varied by specific acoustic and phonetic parameters. Participants consistently associated increased word length and diminished wordlikeness with abstract concepts. In Experiment 3, participants completed a semantic decision task (i.e., abstract or concrete) for real words varied by length and concreteness. Participants were more likely to misclassify longer, inflected words (e.g., "apartment") as abstract and shorter uninflected abstract words (e.g., "fate") as concrete. In Experiment 4, we used a multiple regression to predict trial level naming data from a large corpus of nouns which revealed significant interaction effects between concreteness and word form. Together these results provide converging evidence for the hypothesis that listeners map sound to meaning through a non-arbitrary process using prior knowledge about statistical regularities in the surface forms of words.

Show MeSH
Related in: MedlinePlus