Language, Languages, and Abstract Concepts

Part of the SpringerBriefs in Psychology book series (BRIEFSPSYCHOL)


The chapter reports further sparse evidence favouring the WAT theory showing that linguistic information plays a major role for the representation of abstract concepts. We start illustrating a computational linguistic study that indicates that a rich linguistic context is more relevant for abstract than for concrete concepts (Recchia and Jones 2012). We then turn to the analysis of examples taken from the Italian Sign Language (LIS) that shows that for signs referring to abstract concepts (e.g., “literature,” “philosophy,” and “truth”), strategies based on the exploitation of language such as initialization are used (Gianfreda et al. in press; Borghi et al., submitted). The larger part of the chapter is dedicated to the review of cross-linguistic studies. The aim of this review is to provide support to one of the main tenets of the WAT proposal, i.e., the hypothesis that abstract concepts are more influenced by linguistic variability. The analysis takes into account concepts that can be considered as progressively more abstract: it starts with studies on concrete objects as containers, then it focuses on motion and locomotion verbs, on spatial relations, and then it turns to studies on abstract entities such as “time” and “number,” and on abstract verbs such as mental states verbs. The evidence reported suggests indeed that the differences between different languages influence more conceptual representation of abstract concepts than of concrete ones.


Abstract concepts Abstract words Sign language Linguistic diversity Crosscultural studies Linguistic context 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.PsychologyUniversity of BolognaBolognaItaly
  2. 2.Institute of Cognitive Sciences and TechnologiesItalian National Research CouncilRomeItaly
  3. 3.RWTH Aachen UniversityAachenGermany

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