, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 353-377

Linguistic Relativity in Japanese and English: Is Language the Primary Determinant in Object Classification?

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Abstract

In the present study, we tested claims by Lucy (1992a, 1992b) that differences between the number marking systems used by Yucatec Maya and English lead speakers of these languages to differentially attend to either the material composition or the shape of objects. In order to evaluate Lucy's hypothesis, we replicated his critical object classification experiment using speakers of English and Japanese, a language with a number marking system very similar to that employed by Yucatec Maya. Our results failed to replicate Lucy's findings. Both Japanese and English speakers, who were comparable in their cultural and educational backgrounds, classified objects more on the basis of shape than material composition, suggesting that Lucy's original findings may have resulted not from differences between the number marking systems of Yucatec Maya and English but rather from differences in the cultural and educational backgrounds of his experimental groups. Alternative accounts of the cognitive consequences of inter-linguistic differences in number marking systems are discussed.