Embodied models of language understanding propose a close association between language comprehension and sensorimotor processes. Specifically, they suggest that meaning representation is grounded in modal experiences. Converging evidence suggests that words automatically activate spatial processing. For example, words such as ‘sky’ (‘ground’) facilitate motor and visual processing associated with upper (lower) space. However, very little is known regarding the influence of linguistic operators such as negation on these language–space associations. If these associations play a crucial role for language understanding beyond the word level, one would expect linguistic operators to automatically influence or modify these language–space associations. Participants read sentences describing an event implying an upward or a downward motion in an affirmative or negated version (e.g. The granny looks to the sky/ground vs. The granny does not look to the sky/ground). Subsequently, participants responded with an upward or downward arm movement according to the colour of a dot on the screen. The results showed that the motion direction implied in the sentences influenced subsequent spatially directed motor responses. For affirmative sentences, arm movements were faster if they matched the movement direction implied in the sentence. This language–space association was modified by the negation operator. Our results show that linguistic operators—such as negation—automatically modify language–space associations. Thus, language–space associations seem to reflect language processes beyond pure word-based activations.
Language Negation Sentences Embodiment Vertical space
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