The relation between linguistic categories and cognition: The case of numeral classifiers

Henrik Saalbach, Mutsumi Imai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


The classifier grammar system categorises things in the world in a way that is drastically different from the way nouns do. Previous research revealed amplified similarity among objects belonging to the same classifier category in Chinese speakers, but how this amplified classifier similarity effect arises was still an open question. The present research was conducted to address this question. For this purpose, we compared speakers of Chinese, Japanese (classifier languages), and German (nonclassifier language) on a range of cognitive tasks including similarity judgements, property induction, and fast-speed word-picture matching. Although Chinese and Japanese classifier systems are similar in their semantic structures, classifier classes for nouns are marked more systematically in Chinese than in Japanese. The amplified classifier similarity effect was found in Chinese but not in Japanese speakers. We explore the nature of the amplified classifier similarity effect and propose an explanation for how it may arise.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)381-428
Number of pages48
JournalLanguage and Cognitive Processes
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2012 Apr


  • Classifiers
  • Concepts
  • Inductive reasoning
  • Linguistic relativity
  • Similarity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language


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