Language Informativity: Is starfish more of a fish in English than in Dutch?


Two studies examined how lexical information contained in words affects people’s category representations. Some words are lexically suggestive regarding the taxonomic position of their referent (e.g., bumblebee, starfish). However, this information differs from language to language (e.g., in Dutch the equivalent words hold no taxonomic information: hommel, vlinder). Three language groups, Dutch, English, and Indonesian speakers, were tested in similarity and typicality judgment tasks. The results show that the lexical information affects only the users of the language (e.g., Dutch speakers rated Dutch-informative items, both in similarity and typicality tasks, higher than English and Indonesian speakers). Results are discussed in light of theories of concept representation and the language relativity hypothesis.

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