Embodied relations are encoded in language

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Studies of embodied cognition have shown that comprehenders process iconic word pairs (attic-basement) more quickly than reverse-iconic pairs (basement-attic) when the pairs are presented to them in a vertical spatial arrangement. This effect disappears in a horizontal spatial arrangement. This has been claimed to show that comprehenders perceptually simulate these word pairs. A complementary explanation is that linguistic conceptualizations (word order) reflect prelinguistic conceptualizations (spatial iconicity), whereby comprehenders use these linguistic conceptualizations in the comprehension process. The results of corpus linguistic, rating, and semantic judgment studies reported here supported this explanation: Iconic word pairs were more frequent than reverse-iconic word pairs; frequency of word order explained response times in a semantic judgment task better than iconicity did; and when iconic word pairs were presented in a horizontal arrangement, the iconicity effect disappeared, but the word order effect remained. These findings show that spatial iconicity patterns are reflected in word order patterns and that comprehenders are sensitive to these word order patterns in language-processing tasks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)838-844
Number of pages7
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin & Review
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Comprehension
  • Humans
  • Judgment
  • Mental Recall
  • Orientation
  • Paired-Associate Learning
  • Reaction Time
  • Semantics
  • Set (Psychology)

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