The empirical investigation of semantics: Between abstract-symbolic and embodied-simulative models of meaning


Classical theories of meaning in the field of linguistics and psycholinguistics assume that meaning arises from the combination of symbols for which a substring or other part-whole relation is defined. According to this perspective, symbols are abstract, amodal (i.e., neither perceptual, nor motoric) and only contingently related to entities in the external world. For a long time, a convincing case for classical models has been the absence of alternatives. However, more recently, several theories subsumed under the notions of “embodied” or “grounded” theories have challenged the fundamental assumptions of classical models (e.g., Barsalou, 1999; Glenberg, 2010; Pecher & Zwaan, 2005). From the point of view of embodied theories, cognition is grounded in modal representations which simulate actual objects, properties and situations. Such a claim carries theoretical, empirical and methodological repercussions that also change the way linguistic processes are conceived of (Ferretti et al., 2013; Zwaan & Radvansky, 1998). The goal of the symposium is to explore which repercussions these issues have on the nature of linguistic meaning and its neural and cognitive realization or representation.

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