Bounded Unbounded

Tactile Prime

Verb Aspect □ Perfective ■ Impcrfective

Bounded Unbounded

Tactile Prime figure 11.12. Proportion of perfective sentences (e.g., "The girl drank the milk.") and imperfective sentences (e.g., "The girl was drinking the milk.") produced by participants tactilely primed with bounded objects and with unbounded substances.

further exploration. We suggest that, as indicated by the/estar/ experiment, there may be conceptual metaphorical uses of spatial frames of reference (e.g., LOCATION IS ATTRIBUTE OWNERSHIP, PROXIMITY IS SIMILARITY, BOUNDEDNESS IS TEMPORAL DELIMITATION, UNBOUNDEDNESS IS TEMPORAL LIMITLESSNESS) that cross-cut language and the rest of perception, action, and cognition (e.g., Gibbs, 1996; Lakoff, 1987) and occasionally allow temporal properties to "piggyback" on spatial formats of representation (e.g., Boroditsky, 2000,2001).

general discussion

We have presented evidence that metalinguistic judgments from linguistically naive participants, as well as real-time verb comprehension and production, interacts with perceptual-spatial processes - at least with verbs that imply literal or metaphorical spatial relationships. In one study, the verbs were normatively categorized as having either horizontal or vertical image schemas (Richardson et al., 2001). Then the spatial orientation of these verbs' image schemas was shown to exert influences on spatial perception and memory, interfering with performance on a visual discrimination task, and facilitating performance in the encoding of a visual memory (Richardson et al., 2003). In additional studies, the conceptual metaphorical use of spatial location as an indicator of attribute ownership was shown to underlie the meaning of the Spanish verb/estar/, thus fundamentally differentiating it from its putative partner-copula/ser/(Gonzalez-Marquez & Spivey, 2004). Moreover, we reported preliminary evidence for the sensorimotor spatial properties of boundedness and unboundedness being related to the aspectual distinction between perfective verb forms (e.g., "Jerry ate.") and imperfective verb forms (e.g., "Jerry was eating.").

When one considers the ubiquity of topographical maps in cortex (cf. Swindale, 2001), it should not be surprising that much of cognition, even language, functions via representational formats comprised of two-dimensional map-like structures. However, the precise mechanisms and processes that carry out this spatialization of language is still yet to be determined. Future work in the cognitive neuroscience of language (e.g., Pulvermuller, 2002) and computational modeling (e.g., Regier, 1996) promises to reveal some of those mechanisms and processes. Nonetheless, even without explicit accounts of the processes underlying the findings reported herein, there are some important conclusions that can be made from this evidence for the role of continuous metric spaces in cognition and language.

These findings of linguistic processing relying so heavily on visual and other spatially laid out formats of representation point toward some profound implications looming on the horizon. From a broad perspective, topographic layouts for cognitive representations pose a significant problem for traditional symbol-minded accounts of both language in particular and cognition in general. True digital symbol manipulation would require a kind of neural architecture that is very different from the analog two-dimensional maps that might implement image-schematic representations (cf. Regier, 1996) and that we know populate much of cortex (e.g., Churchland & Sejnowski, 1992; Swindale, 2001). Individual neurons devoted to individual concepts were once considered as a possible neural mechanism of symbolic thought (cf. Lettvin, 1995; Rose, 1996), but such a representational scheme is now considered highly unlikely (e.g., Barlow, 1972; Pouget, Dayan, & Zemel, 2000). Thus, the future of cognitive science may hold for us a popular view of perception and cognition in which much of it is implemented in the two-dimensional spatial formats of representation that we know exist in the brain, without the use of discrete symbolic representations that we have yet to witness.

From a more focused perspective, the offline and online experimental results described herein have important implications for research in cognitive linguistics and psycholinguistics. First, they provide experimental evidence that converges with linguistic theory (Lakoff, 1987; Langacker, 1987; Talmy, 1983) and norming data (Gibbs, 1996) in support of the cognitive psychological reality of image schemas and the rich relationship between perceptual space and linguistic conceptual space (Gibbs & Colston, 1995). Second, a subset of the experiments demonstrate that linguistic representations are automatically linked with sensorimotor mechanisms (and not just metacognitive deliberations) in that they influence real-time performance in a perceptual task and a delayed memory task.

For traditional, as well as many conventional, theoretical frameworks in cognitive psychology and linguistics, language processing and spatial perception are not expected to be tightly coupled. These perspectives view language as an encapsulated system of amodal symbol manipulation, functioning independently from what is typically viewed as perceptual processing and the computation of knowledge regarding how entities and objects interact in the world (Chomsky, 1965; Fodor, 1983; Markman & Dietrich, 2000). This modular view certainly would not predict such interactions between language and perception.

However, several strands of behavioral research serve to buttress these observations of automatic cross-modal activation taking place during language processing. For example, the headband-mounted eyetracking studies, discussed in the introduction, provide several examples of the incremental comprehension of language being rapidly integrated with visual processing (e.g., Spivey-Knowlton et al., 1998; Tanenhaus et al., 1995). Moreover, priming studies have shown that at the moment of verb comprehension, typical agents, patients and instruments of that verb become activated (Ferretti, McRae, & Hatherell, 2001). It is argued that such thematic role information might be part of generalized situational knowledge that is rapidly activated during online language comprehension. It seems plausible that, at least with certain verbs, spatial information might be part of such generalized knowledge, and that the process of integrating this knowledge might involve perceptual mechanisms. A similar interplay between linguistic and perceptual processes was demonstrated by Kaden, Wapner, and Werner (i955),who found that subjective eye level can be influenced by the spatial components of words. Subjects sat in a dark room and saw luminescent words at their objective eye level. Subjects then had the words moved up or down, until they were at their subjective eye level. Words with an upward connotation ("climbing," "raising") had to be placed slightly lower to be perceived as being at eye level, whereas words with a downward component ("falling," "plunging") had to be placed slightly above the objective eye level.

It has been claimed that generating a representation of a text engages visuo-spatial processing, even when the text does not involve any description of spatial relations (Fincher-Kiefer, 2001), and that picture-story comprehension has many of the features of text comprehension at the level of neural activation (Robertson et al., 1999). Two recent studies have shown that reading a sentence can prime responses to depictions of items described in the sentence, specific to their orientation (Stanfield & Zwaan, 2001) and shape (Zwaan, Stanfield, & Yaxley, 2002), even though these attributes were only implied in the text. For example, after reading "John hammered the nail into the wall," participants saw a picture of a nail and verified that the object was featured in the sentence. Response times were faster when the nail was depicted in a horizontal rather than vertical orientation. The reverse was true if the sentence was "John hammered the nail into the floor." These results suggest that, during comprehension, readers generate some form of perceptual simulation that represents attributes implicit in the text. Similarly, a perceptual simulation appears to be generated during concept property verification tasks (Kan, Barsalou, Solomon, Minor, & Thompson-Schill, 2003; Solomon & Barsalou, 2001).

There is evidence that some form of motor simulation may also accompany language comprehension. For example, Glenberg and Kaschak (2002) had participants judge the sensibility of actions described in a sentence (e.g., "Close the drawer" vs. "Boil the air"). Judgments were made by a response that involved a hand movement either away or toward the body. Glenberg and Kaschak found what they termed an "action-sentence compatibility effect": participants were faster to make their response if they had to make a physical action (toward/away from the body) that was in the same direction as the described action ("Close/open the drawer"). Interestingly, as predicted by Richardson et al.'s (2003) results with abstract verbs, this effect also held for the transfer of abstract entities, as in "Liz told you the story" vs. "You told Liz the story."

These recent findings in the literature, as well as the results of the experiments detailed in the previous sections of this chapter, form a contiguous fabric of empirical support for the assertion, often made by cognitive linguistics, that certain characteristics of word meaning and grammar, both literal and metaphoric, are comprised of spatial representations. Moreover, the results endorse perceptual-motor theories of cognitive representation in general (e.g., Barsalou, 1999; Mandler, 1992) because these spatial representations are automatically activated during language comprehension and production, and they appear to be tightly coupled with concurrent perception, action, and cognition. We hope to see future research in this general area continue the interweaving of in-depth theoretical development (e.g., Talmy, 1983; see also Coulson, 2001) with normative treatment of linguistic materials (Gibbs, 1996) and real-time perceptual/cognitive experimentation (Richardson et al., 2003).


Much of the work described herein was supported by NIMH grant #ROi-63691 to the first author and by Cornell Sage Fellowships to the second and third authors. The authors are grateful to Ulric Neisser, Seana Coulson, Irene Mittelberg, Rick Dale, Florencia Reali, and Ben Hiles for comments on the work, and to Elizabeth Goulding, Kola Ijaola, Pete Ippel, and Ji Sook Moon for assistance with stimulus construction and data collection.


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