Experiential differences in the neural representation of word meaning: the impact of bodily and personal experience on action verb semantics.

Project Details


According to theories of Embodied Cognition (EC), word meaning is partly represented by the same perceptuo-motor systems used for perceiving and acting upon the referents of the linguistic utterance. Support for EC comes from work showing that reading action verbs like kick activates leg-areas in the premotor cortex. However, if EC is correct, any experiential differences in perceptuo-motor systems should be reflected in the semantic representations they support. One instance of this idea, the Body Specificity Hypothesis [BSH; 6], predicts that differences in manual action execution between leftand right-handers lead to corresponding differences in manual action verb representation. Despite correlational evidence for this claim, causal support remains lacking. Moreover, it is unclear whether the BSH is part of a broader principle of experiential differences impacting on language processing. Here I propose a series of experiments that manipulate neural activity in dominant hand motor-areas of left- and right-handers while they process standard English (Exp. 1-2) or newly acquired (Exp. 3-4) manual action verbs. These data will provide the first causal evidence for the impact of body-specific and experiential differences on the neural representation of word meaning. As such, the current work provides an important theoretical contribution to theories of EC and to our understanding of the neurobiology of language as a whole.
Effective start/end date1/10/13 → 30/09/17


  • linguistique et littérature
  • linguistics and literature

Flemish discipline codes

  • Other languages and literary studies not elsewhere classified
  • Linguistics
  • Language studies


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