Language and Embodiment: sensory-motor and linguistic-social experience. Evidence on sentence comprehension

Scorolli, Claudia (2009) Language and Embodiment: sensory-motor and linguistic-social experience. Evidence on sentence comprehension, [Dissertation thesis], Alma Mater Studiorum Università di Bologna. Dottorato di ricerca in Filosofia del linguaggio, linguistica e scienze cognitive, 21 Ciclo. DOI 10.6092/unibo/amsdottorato/1608.
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In this work I address the study of language comprehension in an “embodied” framework. Firstly I show behavioral evidence supporting the idea that language modulates the motor system in a specific way, both at a proximal level (sensibility to the effectors) and at the distal level (sensibility to the goal of the action in which the single motor acts are inserted). I will present two studies in which the method is basically the same: we manipulated the linguistic stimuli (the kind of sentence: hand action vs. foot action vs. mouth action) and the effector by which participants had to respond (hand vs. foot vs. mouth; dominant hand vs. non-dominant hand). Response times analyses showed a specific modulation depending on the kind of sentence: participants were facilitated in the task execution (sentence sensibility judgment) when the effector they had to use to respond was the same to which the sentences referred. Namely, during language comprehension a pre-activation of the motor system seems to take place. This activation is analogous (even if less intense) to the one detectable when we practically execute the action described by the sentence. Beyond this effector specific modulation, we also found an effect of the goal suggested by the sentence. That is, the hand effector was pre-activated not only by hand-action-related sentences, but also by sentences describing mouth actions, consistently with the fact that to execute an action on an object with the mouth we firstly have to bring it to the mouth with the hand. After reviewing the evidence on simulation specificity directly referring to the body (for instance, the kind of the effector activated by the language), I focus on the specific properties of the object to which the words refer, particularly on the weight. In this case the hypothesis to test was if both lifting movement perception and lifting movement execution are modulated by language comprehension. We used behavioral and kinematics methods, and we manipulated the linguistic stimuli (the kind of sentence: the lifting of heavy objects vs. the lifting of light objects). To study the movement perception we measured the correlations between the weight of the objects lifted by an actor (heavy objects vs. light objects) and the esteems provided by the participants. To study the movement execution we measured kinematics parameters variance (velocity, acceleration, time to the first peak of velocity) during the actual lifting of objects (heavy objects vs. light objects). Both kinds of measures revealed that language had a specific effect on the motor system, both at a perceptive and at a motoric level. Finally, I address the issue of the abstract words. Different studies in the “embodied” framework tried to explain the meaning of abstract words The limit of these works is that they account only for subsets of phenomena, so results are difficult to generalize. We tried to circumvent this problem by contrasting transitive verbs (abstract and concrete) and nouns (abstract and concrete) in different combinations. The behavioral study was conducted both with German and Italian participants, as the two languages are syntactically different. We found that response times were faster for both the compatible pairs (concrete verb + concrete noun; abstract verb + abstract noun) than for the mixed ones. Interestingly, for the mixed combinations analyses showed a modulation due to the specific language (German vs. Italian): when the concrete word precedes the abstract one responses were faster, regardless of the word grammatical class. Results are discussed in the framework of current views on abstract words. They highlight the important role of developmental and social aspects of language use, and confirm theories assigning a crucial role to both sensorimotor and linguistic experience for abstract words.

Tipologia del documento
Tesi di dottorato
Scorolli, Claudia
Dottorato di ricerca
Scuola di dottorato
Scienze umanistiche
Settore disciplinare
Settore concorsuale
Parole chiave
concepts, words, sentences, language comprehension, perceptual system, motor system, embodiment, simulation, motor resonance, effectors, dominant hand, intrinsic objects properties, weight, concrete words, abstract words, social-linguistic experience, language-dependence
Data di discussione
19 Giugno 2009

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