Scope of Linguistic Influence: Does a Classifier System Alter Object Concepts?

Henrik Saalbach, Mutsumi Imai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Citations (Scopus)


Whether and to what extent conceptual structure is universal is of great importance for understanding the nature of human concepts. Two major factors that might affect concepts are language and culture. The authors investigated whether these 2 factors affect concepts of everyday objects in any significant ways. Specifically, they tested (a) whether the system of grammatical categorization by classifiers influenced the conceptual structure of speakers of classifier languages, and (b) whether Westerners organized object concepts around taxonomic relations whereas Easterners organized them around thematic relations, as proposed by R. E. Nisbett (2003). The relative importance of 3 types of relations-taxonomic, thematic, and classifier-for Chinese and German speakers was tested using a range of tasks, including categorization, similarity judgment, property induction, and fast-speed word-picture matching. Some support for linguistic relativity as well as for the cultural-specific cognition proposal was found in some tasks, but these effects were miniscule compared with the importance of taxonomic and thematic relations for both language-culture groups. The authors conclude that the global structure of everyday object concepts is strikingly similar across different cultures and languages.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)485-501
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2007 Aug


  • classifiers
  • concepts
  • culture-specific cognition
  • linguistic relativity
  • thematic relations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Psychology(all)
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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