Fine-Grained Semantic Categorization across the Abstract and Concrete Domains

Marta Ghio, Matilde Maria Serena Vaghi, Marco Tettamanti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

A consolidated approach to the study of the mental representation of word meanings has consisted in contrasting different domains of knowledge, broadly reflecting the abstract-concrete dichotomy. More fine-grained semantic distinctions have emerged in neuropsychological and cognitive neuroscience work, reflecting semantic category specificity, but almost exclusively within the concrete domain. Theoretical advances, particularly within the area of embodied cognition, have more recently put forward the idea that distributed neural representations tied to the kinds of experience maintained with the concepts' referents might distinguish conceptual meanings with a high degree of specificity, including those within the abstract domain. Here we report the results of two psycholinguistic rating studies incorporating such theoretical advances with two main objectives: first, to provide empirical evidence of fine-grained distinctions within both the abstract and the concrete semantic domains with respect to relevant psycholinguistic dimensions; second, to develop a carefully controlled linguistic stimulus set that may be used for auditory as well as visual neuroimaging studies focusing on the parametrization of the semantic space beyond the abstract-concrete dichotomy. Ninety-six participants rated a set of 210 sentences across pre-selected concrete (mouth, hand, or leg action-related) and abstract (mental state-, emotion-, mathematics-related) categories, with respect either to different semantic domain-related scales (rating study 1), or to concreteness, familiarity, and context availability (rating study 2). Inferential statistics and correspondence analyses highlighted distinguishing semantic and psycholinguistic traits for each of the pre-selected categories, indicating that a simple abstract-concrete dichotomy is not sufficient to account for the entire semantic variability within either domains.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere67090
JournalPLoS One
Volume8
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 25 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)

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