Where are the concepts? What words can and can’t reveal
Malt, B. C., Gennari, S., Imai, M., Ameel, E., Saji, N., & Majid, A.
Where are the concepts? What words can and can’t reveal. In E. Margolis, & S. Laurence (Eds.
), The conceptual Mind: New directions in the study of concepts
(pp. 291-326). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Concepts are so fundamental to human cognition that Fodor declared the heart of a cognitive science to be its theory of concepts.
To study concepts, though, cognitive scientists need to be able to identify
some. The prevailing assumption has been that they are revealed by
words such as triangle, table, and robin. But languages vary dramatically
in how they carve up the world with names. Either ordinary concepts
must be heavily language dependent, or names cannot be a direct route
to concepts. We asked speakers of English, Dutch, Spanish, and Japanese
to name a set of 36 video clips of human locomotion and to judge the
similarities among them. We investigated what name inventories, name
extensions, scaling solutions on name similarity, and scaling solutions on
nonlinguistic similarity from the groups, individually and together, suggest
about the underlying concepts. Aggregated naming data and similarity
solutions converged on results distinct from individual languages.