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How thought is mapped into words

Malt, B., & Majid, A. (2013). How thought is mapped into words. WIREs: Cognitive Science, 4, 583-597. doi:10.1002/wcs.1251.
To English speakers, the distinctions between blue and green, cup and glass, or cut and break seem self-evident. The intuition is that these words label categories that have an existence independent of language, and language merely captures the pre-existing categories. But cross-linguistic work shows that the named distinctions are not nearly as self-evident as they may feel. There is diversity in how languages divide up domains including color, number, plants and animals, drinking vessels and household containers, body parts, spatial relations, locomotion, acts of cutting and breaking, acts of carrying and holding, and more. Still, studies documenting variability across languages also uncover striking commonalities. Such commonalities indicate that there are sources of constraint on the variation. Both the commonalities and divergences carry important lessons for Cognitive Science. They speak to the causal relations among language, thought, and culture; the possibility of cross-culturally shared aspects of perception and cognition; the methods needed for studying general-purpose, nonlinguistic concepts; and how languages are learned
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The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

The institute is situated on the campus of the Radboud University. We participate in the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, and have particularly close ties to that institute's Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging. We also participate in the Centre for Language Studies. A joint graduate school, the IMPRS in Language Sciences, links the Donders Institute, the CLS and the MPI.


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