Journal of East Asian Linguistics

, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 1–19

Classifier effects on human categorization: the role of shape classifiers in Mandarin Chinese

Article

Abstract

Chinese is a language that classifies nouns into groups on the basis of shape, material, and size. We asked whether the classification of nouns by shape affects the degree to which Chinese speakers rely on shape when classifying objects. Three experiments examined the degree to which Chinese- and English-speaking adults rely on shape versus taxonomic or functional similarity in a classification task. Across all three experiments, Chinese speakers made significantly more shape choices than English speakers though they both mostly classified objects on the basis of taxonomic or functional similarity. Reliance on shape by speakers of Chinese was correlated with amount of exposure to Chinese. The results offer evidence in support of the idea that language influences categorization, or a weak form of the Whorf Hypothesis. The results also call into question the widely-held belief that speakers of all classifier languages pay less attention to shape in classification.

Keywords

Classifiers Categorization Linguistic relativity Mass noun hypothesis 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. Allan Keith. (1977) Classifiers. Language 53: 285–311CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Brown Roger W. (1961) Linguistic determinism and the part of speech. In: Saporta Sol., Batian Jarvis R. (eds) Psycholinguistics: A book of readings. Holt, New York, pp 503–509Google Scholar
  3. Carey Susan. (1985) Conceptual change in childhood. MIT Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  4. Carroll, John B., and Joseph B. Casagrande. 1958. The function of language classifications in behavior. In Readings in social psychology, ed. Eleanor E. Maccoby, Theodore Mead Newcomb and Eugene Leonard Hartley, 3rd ed., 1–30. New York: Holt, Reinhart and Winston.Google Scholar
  5. Cole Michael, Sylvia Scribner. (1974) Culture and thought : A psychological introduction. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  6. Dunn, Lloyd M., and Leota M. Dunn. 1981. Peabody picture vocabulary test (rev. ed.). Circle Pines. MN: American Guidance Service for Pictures.Google Scholar
  7. Gelman Susan., Markman Ellen M. (1987) Young children’s inductions from natural kinds: The role of categories and appearances. Child Development 58: 1532–1541CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Hansen Chad. (1983) Language and logic in ancient China. The University of Michigan Press, Ann ArborGoogle Scholar
  9. Mutsumi Imai, Gentner Dedre. (1997) A cross linguistic study on early word meaning: Universal ontology and linguistic influence. Cognition 62: 169–200CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Keil Frank C. (1989) Concepts, kinds, and cognitive development. The MIT Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  11. Locke John. (1690) An essay concerning human understanding, A.D. Woozley. Meridian, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  12. Lyons John. (1992) Grammatical categories and cognition: A case study of the linguistic relativity hypothesis. Cambridge University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  13. Lyons John. (1977) Semantics. Vol. 2. Cambridge University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  14. Maclay Horwad. (1958) An experimental study of language and non-linguistic behavior. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 14: 220–229Google Scholar
  15. Markman Ellen. M., Hutchinson Jean. (1984) Children’s sensitivity to constraints on word meaning: Taxonomic versus thematic relations. Cognitive Psychology 16: 1–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Mazuka Reiko, Friedman Ronald (2000) Linguistic relativity in Japanese and English: Is language the primary determinant in object classification?. Journal of East Asian Linguistics 9(4): 353–377CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Schmitt Bernd, Zhang Shi (1998) Language structure and categorization: A study of classifiers in consumer cognition, judgment, and choice. Journal of Consumer Research 25: 108–122CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Sera Maria D., Chryle Elieff, James Forbes, Melissa Burch, Wanda Rodríguez, Poulin-Dubois Diane (2002) When language affects cognition and when it does not: An analysis of grammatical gender and classification. Journal of Experimental Psychology 131(3): 377–397Google Scholar
  19. Smith Edward E., Medin Douglas L. (1981) Concepts and Categories. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  20. Zhang Shi, Schmitt Bernd. (1998) Language-dependent classification: The mental representation of classifiers in cognition, memory, and ad Evaluations. Journal of Experimental Psychology 4: 375–358Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Foreign LanguagesNational Chiayi UniversityMinhsiung, ChiayiTaiwan
  2. 2.Institute for Child DevelopmentUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA

Personalised recommendations