You are here: Home Publications Can nomenclature for the body be explained by embodiment theories?

Can nomenclature for the body be explained by embodiment theories?

Majid, A., & Van Staden, M. (2015). Can nomenclature for the body be explained by embodiment theories? Topics in Cognitive Science, 7(4), 570-594. doi:10.1111/tops.12159.
According to widespread opinion, the meaning of body part terms is determined by salient discontinuities in the visual image; such that hands, feet, arms, and legs, are natural parts. If so, one would expect these parts to have distinct names which correspond in meaning across languages. To test this proposal, we compared three unrelated languages—Dutch, Japanese, and Indonesian—and found both naming systems and boundaries of even basic body part terms display variation across languages. Bottom-up cues alone cannot explain natural language semantic systems; there simply is not a one-to-one mapping of the body semantic system to the body structural description. Although body parts are flexibly construed across languages, body parts semantics are, nevertheless, constrained by non-linguistic representations in the body structural description, suggesting these are necessary, although not sufficient, in accounting for aspects of the body lexicon.
About MPI

This is the MPI

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.


Street address
Wundtlaan 1
6525 XD Nijmegen
The Netherlands

Mailing address
P.O. Box 310
6500 AH Nijmegen
The Netherlands

Phone:   +31-24-3521911
Fax:        +31-24-3521213

Public Outreach Officer
Charlotte Horn