Use this URL to cite or link to this record in EThOS: https://ethos.bl.uk/OrderDetails.do?uin=uk.bl.ethos.771815
Title: Concepts and concreteness in psycholinguistics
Author: Pollock, Lewis
ISNI:       0000 0004 7659 9451
Awarding Body: UCL (University College London)
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2018
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Abstract:
This thesis is about the concrete-abstract distinction ('concreteness') as it applies in psycholinguistic research and theories of concepts. Concreteness is one of the most-investigated psycholinguistic variables, and is also the basis for major disputes about the nature of the human conceptual system. However, I argue that concreteness is not actually a useful construct, and that the units of the conceptual system do not neatly match up with words of natural language, as is often assumed in the experimental and theoretical literatures. I dispute evidence for 'concreteness effects', whereby words with high concreteness ratings exhibit processing differences relative to words with low concreteness ratings. The concreteness measure itself has statistical properties that invalidate it as a psycholinguistic tool. I report four new experiments designed to take into account these troublesome statistical properties, and maximise the chances of finding a concreteness effect. Counterintuitively, in three out of four experiments, the effect disappeared, and in the fourth it was extremely small. I suggest that evidence for concreteness effects is not as strong as it appears to be. Furthermore, even if the effects are real, current explanations of them still fail in various ways. I also consider how the concrete-abstract distinction intersects with popular theories of concepts and cognition, with an emphasis on two in particular (a Fodorian Language of Thought, and a Barsalou-ian Simulator theory). Using the alleged 'abstract' concept JUSTICE as an example, I argue that from the point of view of these theories, some abstract concepts are explanatorily vacuous: they do not actually offer any insight into behaviour or cognition. I conclude that although many 'concrete' items belong in our theories of concepts, some alleged 'abstract' concepts aren't concepts at all. I explore some positive implications of this conclusion for theories of word meaning, and for theories of concepts in general.
Supervisor: Carston, R. ; Crutch, S. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID: uk.bl.ethos.771815  DOI: Not available
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