, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp 558-565

Grounding language in action

Abstract

We report a new phenomenon associated with language comprehension: theaction—sentence compatibility effect (ACE). Participants judged whether sentences were sensible by making a response that required moving toward or away from their bodies. When a sentence implied action in one direction (e.g., “Close the drawer” implies action away from the body), the participants had difficulty making a sensibility judgment requiring a response in the opposite direction. The ACE was demonstrated for three sentences types: imperative sentences, sentences describing the transfer of concrete objects, and sentences describing the transfer of abstract entities, such as “Liz told you the story.” These data are inconsistent with theories of language comprehension in which meaning is represented as a set of relations among nodes. Instead, the data support an embodied theory of meaning that relates the meaning of sentences to human action.

This work was partially supported by a University of Wisconsin Vilas Associate Award to the first author and a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship to the second author.