Imagining the abstract and non-imageable

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20 February 2019
47 Wellington Square (Ground Floor Lecture Room 1), Oxford


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When we say ‘a dog’ or ‘a chair’, we unconsciously imagine a dog or a chair, sometimes this is a particular dog and other times a more generic one. This is not true when we say ‘peace’ or ‘experience’. This talk will explore the concreteness and abstractness of different words. One usually learns many concrete and imageable words very early on in language development, while abstract and non-imageable words come much later and in a smaller number.

These concepts are the core concepts in psycholinguistic research investigating the role of remembering, recognising and understanding, not only words, but the complexity of language architecture as well. The difference in referents of abstract and concrete words has already been captured by Paivio (1975) in his Dual Coding Theory. Concrete concepts are seen as referring to perceivable and spatially embedded entities, while the abstract concepts are seen as referring to entities that “are neither purely physical nor spatially constrained”. Although concreteness and imageability were treated as interchangeable terms in the literature, recent research shows that there is a systematic gap between them, and that the researcher should consider word’s frequency and familiarity as well.

This talk discusses these theoretical issues considering the initial results of the project entitled The Building Blocks of Croatian Mental Grammar: Constraints of Information Structure, within the scope of which the Croatian Psycholinguistic Database is being constructed. The database contains empirically established values for the categories of concreteness, imageability, subjective frequency and age of acquisition for 3,000 lexemes (nouns, verbs and adjectives) of Croatian extracted from the hrLex lexicon whose frequency was extracted from the hrWaC corpus. The speaker will discuss the data collected from the perspective of constructional cognitive linguistic theories and show the applicability of the database for researchers and practitioners. The talk will be followed by a Q & A.

The event is free and open to everyone.

The speaker:

Anita Peti-Stantić

Professor Anita Peti-Stantić is a full professor and the Chair for Slovene language and literature at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Zagreb. Besides topics in sociolinguistics, her research interests are currently focused on cognitive linguistics and sentence information structure, as well as on changes in interrelationships of the grammatical complexity.

The event is organised and hosted by Creative Multilingualism (Metaphor Strand) in collaboration with TORCH. Creative Multilingualism is a research programme led by the University of Oxford and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council as part of the Open World Research Initiative.

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