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.

References

  1. Barsalou, L. W. (1999). Perceptual symbols systems.Behavioral & Brain Sciences,22, 577–660.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Burgess, C., &Lund, K. (1997). Modelling parsing constraints with high-dimensional context space.Language & Cognitive Processes,12, 177–210.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Chomsky, N. (1980).Rules and representations. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Fillmore, C. J., Kay, P., &O'Connor, M. C. (1988). Regularity and idiomaticity in grammatical constructions: The case of let alone.Language,64, 501–538.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Fincher-Kiefer, R. (2001). Perceptual components of situation models.Memory & Cognition,29, 336–343.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Fodor, J. (2000).The mind doesn't work that way. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Gibson, J. J. (1979).The ecological approach to visual perception. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Glenberg, A. M. (1997). What memory is for.Behavioral & Brain Sciences,20, 1–55.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Glenberg, A. M., &Robertson, D. A. (1999). Indexical understanding of instructions.Discourse Processes,28, 1–26.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Glenberg, A. M., &Robertson, D. A. (2000). Symbol grounding and meaning: A comparison of high-dimensional and embodied theories of meaning.Journal of Memory & Language,43, 379–401.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Goldberg, A. E. (1995).A construction grammar approach to argument structure. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Harnad, S. (1990). The symbol grounding problem.Physica D,42, 335–346.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Kaschak, M. P., &Glenberg, A. M. (2000). Constructing meaning: The role of affordances and grammatical constructions in sentence comprehension.Journal of Memory & Language,43, 508–529.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Kay, P., &Fillmore,C. J. (1999).Grammatical constructions and linguistic generalizations: TheWhat's X doing Y? construction.Language,75, 1–33.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Keenan, J. M., Baillet, S. D., &Brown, P. (1984). The effects of causal cohesion on comprehension and memory.Journal of Verbal Learning & Verbal Behavior,23, 115–126.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Kintsch, W. (1988). The role of knowledge in discourse comprehension: A construction-integration model.Psychological Review,95, 163–182.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Lakoff, G. (1987).Women, fire, and dangerous things: What categories reveal about the mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  18. McNeill, D. (1992).Hand and mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Meltzoff, A. N., &Moore, M. K. (1997). Explaining facial imitation: A theoretical model.Early Development & Parenting,6, 179–192.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Michaelis, L., &Lambrecht, K. (1996). Toward a construction-based model of language function: The case of nominal extraposition.Language,72, 215–247.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Novick, L. R., & Cheng, P. W. (in press). Assessing interactive causal influence.Psychological Review.

  22. Ochs, E., Gonzales, P., &Jacoby, S. (1996). “When I come down I'm in the domain state”: Grammar and graphic representation in the interpretive activity of physicists. In E. Ochs, E. A. Schegloff, & S. A. Thompson (Eds.),Interaction and grammar (pp. 328–369). New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  23. O'Regan, J. K., &Noe, A. (2001). A sensorimotor account of vision and visual consciousness.Behavioral & Brain Sciences,24, 939–1031.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Piaget, J. (1954).The construction of reality in the child. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Pinker, S. (1994).The language instinct. New York: HarperCollins.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Roth, W.-M. (1999). Discourse and agency in school science laboratories.Discourse Processes,28, 27–60.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Searle, J. R. (1980). Minds, brains and programs.Behavioral & Brain Sciences,3, 417–424.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Singer, M. (1994). Discourse inference processes. In M. A. Gernsbacher (Ed.),Handbook of psycholinguistics (pp. 479–517). San Diego: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Stanfield, R. A., &Zwaan, R. A. (2001). The effect of implied orientation derived from verbal context on picture recognition.Psychological Science,12, 153–156.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Talmy, L. (1988). Force dynamics in language and cognition.Cognitive Science,12, 49–100.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Tomasello, M. (2000). Do young children have adult syntactic competence?Cognition,74, 209–253.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Tucker, M., &Ellis, R. (1998). On the relations between seen objects and components of potential actions.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception & Performance,24, 830–846.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Van Den Broek, P. (1994). Comprehension and memory of narrative texts: Inferences and coherence. In M. A. Gernsbacher (Ed.),Handbook of psycholinguistics (pp. 539–589). San Diego: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Arthur M. Glenberg.

Additional information

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.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Glenberg, A.M., Kaschak, M.P. Grounding language in action. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 9, 558–565 (2002). https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03196313

Download citation

Keywords

  • Reading Time
  • Language Comprehension
  • Sentence Type
  • Soccer Ball
  • Abstract Symbol