Can the English stand the bottle like the Dutch? Effects of relational categories on object perception

Does language influence how we perceive the world? This study examines how linguistic encoding of relational information by means of verbs implicitly affects visual processing, by measuring perceptual judgements behaviourally, and visual perception and attention in EEG. Verbal systems can vary cross-linguistically: Dutch uses posture verbs to describe inanimate object configurations (the bottle stands/lies on the table). In English, however, such use of posture verbs is rare (the bottle is on the table). Using this test case, we ask (1) whether previously attested language-perception interactions extend to more complex domains, and (2) whether differences in linguistic usage probabilities affect perception. We report three nonverbal experiments in which Dutch and English participants performed a picture-matching task. Prime and target pictures contained object configurations (e.g., a bottle on a table); in the critical condition, prime and target showed a mismatch in object position (standing/lying). In both language groups, we found similar responses, suggesting that probabilistic differences in linguistic encoding of relational information do not affect perception.
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