Role of language in conceptual coordination
Laskowski, Cyprian Adam
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Although concepts are located within individual minds, while word forms are shared across entire language communities, words and concepts are normally deemed to be tightly bound. But in fact, at least to the extent that concepts vary, the relationship between words and concepts may not be as uniform or stable as is often assumed. Nevertheless, language may itself mediate that relationship, through its entrenchment and use. Psychologists have already investigated language use in referential communication, but they have yet to focus in detail on the role of language in conceptual coordination. One of the obstacles has been the theoretical and methodological challenges that arise from seriously abandoning conceptual universals. To that end, an experimental framework was developed based on sorting tasks in which participants freely partition a set of stimuli into categories and an objective measure for comparing two outputs. Four experiments were then conducted to investigate whether people were conceptually coordinated before, during and after linguistic interaction. Experiment 1 consisted of a cross-linguistic study looking at default coordination between native speakers. Participants both sorted items into groups and named them individually. There was a relatively high degree of categorisation agreement among speakers of the same language, but not nearly as high as for naming agreement. Experiments 2-4 inquired into conceptual coordination during or immediately after linguistic interaction. Experimental manipulations involved the form of language use (full dialogue or only category labels), as well as the type of feedback (category groupings, labels, both, or neither). In particular, Experiment 2 investigated the effects of categorising a set of objects together, with or without dialogue, on subsequent individual categorisation. The results were inconclusive and revealed specific methodological issues, but yielded interesting data and were encouraging for the general framework. Experiment 3 modified the designwhile testing and extending the same general hypotheses. Participants carried out a sequence of categorisation tasks in which they tried to coordinate their categories, followed by individual categorisation and similarity tasks. The availability of dialogue and feedback was manipulated in the interactive tasks. During interaction, they also received both kinds of feedback, except in the control condition. Pairs that could talk coordinated much better than the others, but feedback didn’t help. Experiment 4 looked into the effects of the four possibilities for feedback during a longer sequence of interactive tasks. In general, conceptual coordination was found to depend on grouping feedback only. However, by the end of the task, pairs who received both kinds of feedback did best. All three interactive experiments also measured lexical convergence between pairs. The results generally revealed a dissociation, with lexical alignment showingmore convergence and occurring under a wider variety of conditions. Togetherwith previous research, these findings showthat language can bring about conceptual coordination. However, it appears that the richer the form of language use, the more conceptual convergence occurs, and the closer it gets coupled with lexical convergence. The long-term effects, if any, are much weaker. These studies have implications for the general role of language in cognition and other important issues.