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Classifier effects on semantic representation: The role of numeral classifiers in Mandarin Chinese (talk recording available)
Dr. Ye Liu
Tuesday, April 20, 2010, 01:00pm - 02:00pm
Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences
Classifiers are lexical and syntactic structures that are used in most Asian languages such as Chinese and Japanese, to quantify and classify nouns in noun phrases according to their meanings. Considerable studies on the relationship between language and cognition have focused on classifiers. However, the role of numeral classifiers in semantic representation is still controversial. This study explores the impact of numeral classifiers on semantic access in off-line (interpreting conceptual combination) and on-line semantic task (object recognition). In novel combination interpretation task, subjects were required to explain what they thought the novel combined concepts were with a given classifier. The results showed that the given classifiers had key roles in interpreting conceptual combination. Subjects explained novel combinations according to the given classifiers. In object recognition task, subjects were required to judge if the object in a displayed picture was a living thing or not after a cue disappeared. I argue that numeral classifiers are important cue of conceptual structure for Chinese speakers, and classifier categories function as alternative organizers of concepts and categories in Chinese.