Language and Words Essay Sample

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1. Introduction
A language is a system of symbols, generally known as lexemes and the grammars (rules) by which they are manipulated. The word language is also used to refer to the whole phenomenon of language, i.e., the common properties of languages. Language is commonly used for communication, though it has other uses. Language is a natural phenomenon, and language learning is common in childhood. In their usual form, human languages use patterns of sound or gesture for the symbols in order to communicate with others through the senses.

Though there are thousands of human languages, they all share a number of properties from which there are no known deviations. There is no defined line between a language and a dialect, but it is often said that a language is a dialect with an army and a navy. Communication is the process of sending information to oneself or another entity, usually via a language. Specialized fields focus on various aspects of communication, and include Mass communication, Communication studies, Organizational Communication, Sociolinguistics, Conversation analysis, Cognitive linguistics, Linguistics, Pragmatics, Semiotics, and Discourse analysis.

2. Language
We use language to communicate with each other in all sorts of ways. We try to sell each other soap and cars, real estate and swim suits. We say one thing, but we do so in a tone of voice that may clearly tell our listeners something very different. We sing to each other; we yell; we whisper; weplead. We draw on every skill studied in this book. To sum it all up, when it comes to communicating with others, we rely most heavily on our most sophisticated human skill – language .Think of the benefits provided by language. In printed form it allows us — even as you are doing now, by reading – to educate ourselves. If your professor gives you a written assignment, it allows you more freedom than any other animal to express what is unique about you.

In fact, language and its related processes may be the most important feature distinguishing humans from all other animals .The study of language leads naturally to a number of related questions which we address in this chapter: How do we organize our language for rapid recall of the words we need when we need them? What is language, and how does it contrast with speech? What are the distinguishing features of language? When we are processing language, what is the relative importance of sounds, syntax, and semantics? Are humans unique in their reliance on language? What is required of us physiologically and intellectually to use spoken language? Each of these questions identifies an important element in understanding the totality of humans’ use of language.

2.1. How is Language Organized?
One of the most important questions about language concerns exactly how we store and retrieve information so that we can speak and write.There is no easy answer, but two suggestions have been made:

(1) Reappearance. You read in the chapter on remembering that through our life we do store certain experiences. If someone asked you right now to recall the first time you gave a talk before a group, you could recall (if you wanted to!) the complete event. In this sense remembering amounts only to stirring up something that already exists. That “memory” simply reappears. This is one theory as to how language may be stored, but it has some severe limits.

(2) Utilization. There’s another possibility. Perhaps we don’t actually just “report” on our memory as if viewing from the outside some event stored as whole within us. We may store only a few elements of an event — just the traces of it (as separate “bones,” which need to be reunited). If so, we might view memory as a process of reconstruction. There is an easy way to demonstrate this for you. Was the doorknob on the outside of the door you used most often going into the house where you lived three homes back on the right or the left? Now that’s not something you’re likely to have bothered to remember. But in recalling the answer — we assume you were able to answer correctly! — you probably just reconstructed a mental image of the entry way. You may have positioned trees or plants, entry steps, railings, and so forth. From this array you logically determined which way the door had to open. From that you deduced where the knob had to be. If that described what you did — as it does for many of us — then you’ve just experienced memory as an act of reconstruction.

What has this to do with language? Everything! In the Chapters discussing learning and remembering we discuss performance limits. We worry there about how much we can learn and what conditions lead to the best learning and recall. Here we are more concerned with the actual strategies we use internally as we listen and speak. The problem is easy to illustrate. We learned earlier that our total vocabulary is rather limited — perhaps an adult can recognize 100,000 words. Despite this, we almost never create new words. Most of the sentences we hear (or say ourselves) don’t contain new words. Yet we are constantly making up new sentences. Our stock of words is quite limited, but the supply of sentences we might generate is almost infinite. You have never before read a sentence exactly like the one you’re in the midst of now, yet you understand this sentence with little difficulty. That’s the challenge for psycholinguists — scientists who study language. Psycholinguists might be described as doing the reverse of what paleontologists do.

Paleontologists start with skeletons and use knowledge about muscles and bones and body structure to create models of what prehistoric animals may have appeared. Psycholinguists do the reverse with language, as suggested in the Figure. They must develop a system that will allow us to understand how — even when as young as age five or six — we comprehend sentences we’ve never heard before.

2.2. What is language?
Let’s start by defining language as an abstract system of symbols and meanings. This system includes the rules (grammar) that relate symbols and meanings so that we can communicate with each other. The only term in that definition that might give you some trouble is “symbol,” but that’s easy. A symbol is anything that stands for anything else. The dinner bell is a symbol of the food that’s available. A coworker’s scowl is a symbol of his or her displeasure. The wink of a friend may symbolize a joke or agreement. Symbols appear constantly in our everyday life as suggested by the examples in the Figure. Performance is simply an account of what we actually do or say. If we asked you your name, you would respond with some kind of verbal output called speech, or you would respond with a gesture from Ameslan (American Sign Language). Competence is a bit trickier.

It refers to the ability we each seem to have to generate and interpret sentences according to rules. To illustrate: not proper that Words nonsense are the order in appear do. Said another way, “Words that do not appear in the proper order are nonsense!” You know what is correct order in English and what isn’t. This can be further illustrated in another way. One youngster, aged three, hid from her father behind some curtains in the family’s living room. She said to her father, “Daddy, I’m behind the KURin.” Her father replied, “Yes, I see you. You’re behind the KURin,” mimicking her mispronunciation exactly. She replied, “No! The KURin!” For her, “KURin” when she pronounced it meant “curtain,” but not when she heard it. Here, the child’s speech performance has not yet equaled her linguistic competence. This also nicely illustrates the difference between speech and language.

2.3. The Essence of Language
Around the world there are certain features that identify language. These are features that are shared by all languages, setting them aside from all other systems of communication. Yes, you read that correctly — there are systems of communication which are not languages. What features do languages share in common? Meaningfulness. Pronounce the word “milk” aloud. Ask some of your friends, both male and female, old and young, to say the same word. You can still understand it, can’t you, regardless of who’s saying it? That’s one aspect of the meaning of “milk.” It doesn’t matter who’s saying it, how it’s pronounced (within limits), or where the word is used, it still refers to a white liquid substance.

Despite changes in pronunciation (mumbled, stressed, unstressed), loudness (too loud, just right, too soft), frequency (high or low), location, or anything else, for speakers of English the word is still associated with the same concept or object — milk. Arbitrariness. The relation between a symbol and the thing or concept to which it refers is arbitrary. There’s nothing about dogs requiring us to call them “dogs.” If we all agreed, we could just as easily call animals shaped like those we now call dogs, “cats.” Put it another way: We can’t tell the name of something just by looking at it. Each concept is arbitrarily assigned a particular symbol. Openness. Play for a moment with the three words CHILD, KISS, and GRANDFATHER.

2.4. Processing Language
“Do you know what time it is?”
“Yes.” . .
“Yes. Yes, I do know what time it is.”
“Will you tell me what time it is, then?”
“Oh. I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you wanted to know the time. You just asked me if I knew the time. It’s. . .
And there we’ll leave our fanciful conversation. Why arewe very unlikely to have a conversation like that? Understanding the answer involves an explanation of the important elements of language processing. Basically, there are two sets of reasons why such a conversation is unlikely to occur. First, you and I converse on the basis of an unwritten — but universally practiced — set of rules governing use of language. When you pass someone in the hallway and say, “How are you?”, you do not expect them to respond with a list of joint aches, pimple locations, and problems with a garlic-filled lunch that just won’t quit. “How are you?” is not an invitation for a detailed report; it’s a social greeting indicating we acknowledge someone else’s existence and are generally (socially) concerned with their well being.

“Do you know what time it is?” is not answered yes/no, it’s a request to demonstrate specific knowledge. It’s understood that way by speakers of English; it’s practiced that way. The second set of reasons why this conversation would not occur is somewhat more complex. They involve the primary skills which are combined to allow us to utilize our spoken language. There are three elements involved: One is sound. These sounds come in several different “packages” — English, Spanish, French, Vietnamese, Chinese, Tamel. . . The second skill leading to spoken language is our understanding of syntax, the rules by which we organize our words into lengthier messages. The final factor is the meaning we attach to the words we use. Among these three, syntax and meaning explain why we interpret “Do you know the time?” correctly. The words “know the time” ordered as they are (syntax) means (semantics) the speaker is asking you to inform him/her as to the actual time. 2.4.1. Sound

We are all used to the fact that our language is composed of series of individual words. But that was something we learned. We didn’t know it until we practiced processing the language. In fact, when you are speaking at a normal rate of speed, the pattern of sounds coming from your mouth is almost constant — boundaries between words are not at all obvious. In a simple word association experiment, children (Grades 1, 3, and 5) were given a variety of simple, single words. They were asked individually to respond each time with the first word that occurred to them when they heard the stimulus word. One first-grader, upon hearing once, responded upona. She illustrated the problem of trying to learn a language on the fly. Every fairy tale the child had heard probably started out, “Once upon a time And, more than likely, she had never heard the word once any other phrase. So we learn how to analyze sound. We gain experience in separating the stream of sounds, as illustrated in the Figure, into individual words.

It’s important that we be able to do so, yet each spoken word helps us understand the others spoken with it. Feature 1 discusses some of the ways in which changes in sound may alter the meaning of a message. Most of our examples involved storing visually presented information, but the same sensory storage feature must also be working when we talk to one another. It takes almost a second to say “marshmallow.” We have to store and remember the first part of the word until we hear the last part. That way we can be sure the speaker didn’t say marshes or marshlands or marshal. But, in addition, such things as emphasis and grouping of words can also affect what we interpret a speaker to mean. For example, read out loud the following sentence: “Woman without her man is nothing.” Without knowing how the words are grouped, two interpretations are possible. Re-read the sentence in each of the following ways, but pause between the brackets: (Woman without her man) (is nothing.)

(Woman) (Without her) (man is nothing.)
The location of the pauses determines the meaning of the sentence. In fact, by altering the location of the pauses, you have completely reversed the meaning of the sentence! Another feature that influences meaning is inflection or emphasis within a sentence. Consider the sentence “I want you to do it.” If “I” is stressed, it means the speaker as opposed to someone else, wants you to do the task. If “you” is stressed, it means the speaker wants you, rather than someone else, to do the job. These major changes in meaning are one of the reasons why machine translation of spoken language has been so hard to achieve.The wording was identical in our last two examples. Yet, the sense of the meaning of each sentence changed markedly as the pauses and emphases were shifted around.

There is a language of sounds called American Sign Language, or AMESLAN (AM-eh-slonn). Our English language has 26 letters, but how many sounds must you be able to create in order to speak English? Thousands? Hundreds? No, surprisingly, English is based on only about 43-45 different basic sound units called phonemes. To recreate the sounds needed to speak English, you need a knowledge of three things: The phonemes , the places where pauses occur, and the syllables that need to be STRESSED. The brief sentence written in Ameslan in the Figure contains all three pieces of information, so someone with no knowledge of English but a working knowledge of Ameslan could pronounce the sentence correctly so that any speaker of English could understand him/her.

We write elsewhere in our discussion of langauge about the impact that word order can have on the meaning of a message. There are several aspects of order, of both sounds and words, that influence the meaning of a spoken message. The /e/ sound in tree causes us to pluralize it by adding a /z/ sound — yielding /trez/. The same is true of cha-cha, boo, and mariachi. But if we hear cut, we pluralize it with /s/ to yield /kuts/. Based on the sound we hear, we also pluralize book, rap, and soap with an /s/. More than 80% of first-graders can pluralize these word forms correctly. Only about a third can process a third widely used form of pluralizing based on sound using the /iz/ sound — as in circus yields as its plural circuses; fox, winch, and glass are all pluralized the same way. We aren’t able to process the third type of pluralization with 80% accuracy until roughly fifth-sixth grade. In addition, the order of words themselves in a sentence is also important in determining meaning. Some words seem to be treated with respect, others are pushed around almost at (our) will. Yet we pay attention to the order of words, because it provides us with valuable information.

For instance, there are two major kinds of words: content and function. Content words are an open class — we’re always making up new ones. “A-OK” was added to our vocabulary from the moon shots. “Turn on to” was added by adolescents; more recently, “the bomb.” By contrast, function words are closed — we learn all of them by the age of 12 or so. These include pronouns, prepositions, and determiners (such as a, an, the, and so forth), in addition to many other such classes of words. We might think of function words as the mortar holding the bricks (the content words) together . Function words may be deleted in telegrams, but sentences without them are awkward and less well understood. Syntax also has to do with the relationship of words to one another as they appear in sentences.

“The man cooked the spinach” is very easy to translate; it follows the rules quite well. But how about “They are frying chickens”? Does that refer to some cooks who are really cooking chickens or does it refer to the type of chicken? A psycholinguist is interested in studying the rules by which we translate sentences and understand the speaker’s intended meaning. The distinction between the surface structure of the sentence — what is actually spoken or written — and the underlying or deep structure — the basic, internalized rules from which the sentence is generated — is one of the things psycholinguists study. Obviously, in the case of the chickens, the context in which the sentence was spoken would do much to specify the intended meaning.

Semantics is the study of meaning. A satisfactory definition of “meaning” has to account for a variety of word-related factors. For instance: (1) Why is “My typewriter has bad intentions” clearly nonsense? (2) Why is there a contradiction in saying, “My sister is an only child”? (3) Why is it ambiguous to say “I was looking for the pens”? (4) If we say, “The oar is too short,” why do you immediately infer that you can also correctly say “The oar isn’t long enough”? (5) Finally, if your professor says, “Many in the class were unable to answer the question,” why must it entail that “Only a few in the class grasped the question”? These are not easy questions, but then, if they were, we wouldn’t be listing them! A good theory of meaning has to provide an answer to such questions. Words can be thought of as linguistic signs, each of which has an arbitrary connection with the thing to which it refer — its referent. That’s easy, but then think about the conversation about time, at the beginning of the Processing Language section.

It illustrates a situation in which a speaker responds literally to a question. Clearly this was inappropriate, as we all know. In asking “Do you know what time it is?” we are really saying “If you know the time, please tell me what it is.” There is a conveyed or natural meaning implied in the question even though it is not included in the literal words being used. All these different meanings are what make the meaning of meaning so hard to pin down. To process language, it is apparent that first sound must be decoded and the syntax correctly understood. The remaining task is to assign meaning to the units of the message.

These three processes occur simultaneously, or in parallel, so this doesn’t take very long at all. By the time you finish reading this sentence you will have already grasped its meaning. Weren’t we right? In trying to identify what goes on when we “comprehend” a spoken message, we find there’s little to consider. You either do or do not understand a spoken message. In talking with a friend, by the time he or she is done speaking, you’re ready with an answer. If you talk too long, your friend may be so eager to speak and so sure of your message that he or she will interrupt you. One of the challenges for psycholinguists is to explain the rapid and efficient process by which we are able to do these things.

3. Cognition, Language and Communication
We live in a world where words have in fact taken over from the more physical or non-verbal forms of communication. It is with words that information about human interaction and other events is communicated and stored. Words have become the currency of an information culture that has increasingly become more incapable of dealing with non-verbal action. Indeed, humanity was on the way toward loosing its reliance on non-verbal communication the moment it realized that words can capture more complex forms of reality and abstract these forms in a more economical manner. It is with words that we engage in social interaction and it is through a better understanding of words and their use that we can begin to appreciate communication as joint action. Much of our actions essentially involve communication and are produced by using language. It is therefore not unreasonable to expect that the study of language and its use will contribute to a more informative appreciation of not only the communicative processes that drive joint action or symbolic communication but also psychological processes (cognitive, motivational, emotional).

The present chapter is intended as an attempt and a contribution to elucidate the interface between symbolic communication as mediated by language and cognition. Social behavior and interaction are enabled by means of symbolic communication. This insight is certainly not a recent one and it is one of the main contributions of G. H. Mead (e.g., 1934). Within the Meadian tradition of social psychology, forms of language are treated notmerely as mediators of social interaction but also of cognition, consciousness, and, inevitably, of the self (cf. Rock, 1979, p. 111 ff.) This broader perspective is also central to socio-cultural theory and semiotic mediation (cf. Wertsch, 1991, 1994, Wertsch & Rupert, 1993). Communication is seen as a joint activity that is mediated by the use of a variety of tools. The most significant of these tools is undoubtedly language. The idea that human action is mediated by tools is also one of the central themes of Vygotsky’s work and of the socio-cultural approach which attempts to examine human action in terms of its cultural, institutional and historical embeddedness (cf. Wertsch, 1991).

As Vygotsky (1978) noted, the introduction of culture through language impacts the nature of interpersonal functions. “It does this by determining the structure of a new instrumental act just as a technical tool alters the process of natural adaptation by determining Fussell & Kreuz: 4 the form of labor operations” (Vygotsky, 1981, p. 137). Further, he points out that “As soon as speech and the use of signs are incorporated into any action, the action becomes transformed and organized along entirely new lines” (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 28). In the following, I shall first of all outline the theoretical framework that has informed my work on the language, cognition, and communication interface. This is in large part inspired by Vygotsky’s socio-cultural approach, although by no means entirely, as will become apparent in the first section. Central to this framework is the analytic distinction between language and language use as tool and tool use respectively.

The second section is designed to exemplify the feasibility of such a theoretical framework by furnishing an integrated series of empirical programs that have as their aim: (a) the investigation of ‘tools’ as the medium of communication, and(b) the investigation of how messages are conveyed by strategic ‘tool use’ in two situated communicative contexts.These analytically and empirically separable programs constitute part of a broader research strategy that is being developed to illustrate experimentally not only the relationship between the medium and a message in a communication but also the interfacing role of intra-psychological processes (e.g., cognition). The concluding section draws out the implications of this research strategy for issues such as the interface between language, culture, communication and cognition. Additionally, the methodological implications of the conceptual framework and the ensuing research strategies are drawn – these suggest the possibility of advancing practicable strategies that complement the methodological individualism that prevails in psychology.

3.1. Symbolic Communication as Strategic Tool Use: The Analytic Framework and Its Implications 3.1.1.The Tool and Tool Use Model: The idea or metaphor that language is a tool upon which knowledge is mapped is critical to the development of the perspective that I would like to advance here (Semin, 1995, 1996).I adopt the tool analogy expressly to invite thinking about linguistic devices such as verbs, adjectives and nouns very much in the way in which one would think about hammers, saws and pliers. These tools, which are feats of centuries of engineering, are not only the products of collective experience and knowledge2, they also represent this knowledge. These special tools contain the distilled knowledge about the relationship between a task and the best fit between a task or goal and human propensities (in particular physical ones, namely, movement, handling, vision, etc.).

There is no doubt that I can split a piece of wood into two with a hammer, but a saw is a more sophisticated tool engineered for this purpose. Indeed, I can push a nail into wood with the end of a saw, but a hammer is a more appropriate tool to do so. Yet, one can do other things with hammers. They are also suitable for extracting nails, and so on. Similarly, words are tools of communication that are culturally engineered for specific ranges of purposes similar to the ranges of purposes that saws, hammers and pliers have been engineered for. Similar to the tools of the carpenter, words also contain distilled knowledge about the relationship between a particular communicative intent and its reception. Tools have a number of properties that have been engineered to optimize their use in a variety of contexts or practical domains.

For instance, in the case of hammers, we have a tool that has a shaft and a peen, a hard solid head at a right angle to the handle, and then depending upon the functions that a hammer is to serve, they can display other properties. One such property is a claw on the head for extracting nails, which one typically finds in the case of carpenters’ hammers, etc. The properties that a tool has are distinct from its affordances, namely the variety of things that one can do with it, or its uses. Thus, while a hammer has a limited number of properties, the uses that it can be put are unlimited.With a hammer, one can smash a window, kill a person, beat a drum, and also drive a nail into wood, as well as extract it. The great variety of uses that one can put a hammer to are the affordances of a hammer – to use Gibsonian terminology (Gibson, 1977/66; 1979). 3.1.2.The Tool and Tool Use Research Agenda: The analytic distinction between tools and tool use suggests that we have to develop a more systematic idea of what the tools of communication are and what their properties as well as their “affordances” (Gibson, 1977/66) are.

So, we have to come to terms with the following four questions: (a) What are the types of tools that mediate communication; (b) What are the particular jobs for which such tools have been tailored; (c) How are such tools put to use in specific communicative contexts; and, finally (d) What is the interface between cognition, tool and tool use in communicative contexts? These questions address (at the expense of repeating it once too often) analytic or conceptual distinctions or aspects of a unitary process that simultaneously entails cognition, language and communication amongst others. These steps are not independent from each other. Nevertheless, it is possible to develop research strategies that allow one to maximize the investigative accentuation of one aspect over another and it is certainly the case that the current methodological commitment in psychology has maximized an accentuation of cognition and cognitive processes at the expense of the other aspects. The first step invites a classification.

This entails the identification of the types of tools. In the case of tools such as hammers, saws and pliers, we are able to identify tool types more readily because they have more discernible features. In this case, one the domain is that of ‘manual tools’ along with specific categories in this domain such as saws, hammers, etc. Domain specification and within domain classifications are more readily identifiable in this case, since the match between tool, task and movement is more discernible. In contrast, linguistic tools are not so transparent. This is specially because language, in most of its facets (apart from its surface semantics), constitutes what Polanyi (1967) termed ‘tacit knowledge’. The second step, namely the jobs that the tools have been tailored for, is a research question that invites a focus upon the properties of these tools. The point is that such tools have not one but multiple properties (cf. Semin & Marsman, 1994).

The more specific question then becomes an identification of the type of properties that are relevant and this is inevitably influenced by the type of classificatory cut that one introduces in the first step mentioned above, since any classification also sets the level of generality at which the properties of the respective categories have to be defined. This issue constitutes the second part of the section to follow. The third step, namely tool use in specific communicative contexts, is the subject of the third part of the ensuing section. The research paradigms discussed here present the systematic use of different tools in a ‘question-answer’ and a ‘stereotype-transmission ‘context. The aim here is not only to illustrate the broad range of applications that a systematic analysis of tools and their properties can be put to (namely their affordances), but also to answer the more central fourth question posed above, namely: the interface between cognition, language and communication in these illustrative communicative contexts.

3.2. A Model of the Tools of Interpersonal Language: The Linguistic Category Model The example that I am going to use for a classification of the types of tools used in communication comes from the domain of interpersonal relations. This is a fairly central domain in the communication about persons, their relationships and their characteristics and spans a broad spectrum of research issues within social psychology ranging from attributional phenomena to social cognition in general as well as intergroup relations inter alia.In the following, I shall begin by providing an overview of a taxonomy of the linguistic tools that we use in the description of persons and their relationships as well as interpersonal events, namely the Linguistic Category Model (Semin & Greenslade, 1985; Semin & Fiedler, 1988, 1991). Subsequent to the classification, I shall present the properties of the tools in this domain, namely the features of social interaction and the properties of persons as these are systematically marked in such language.

In presenting the tool classification and tool properties, I shall be brief for two reasons. The first is that there already exists extensive sources for the tool classification (e.g., Semin & Fiedler, 1991, 1992b) and tool properties (e.g., Semin & Marsman, 1994). In the second instance, one of the emphases I would like to bring out here is the methodological accentuation of empirically investigating tool properties, which as I shall argue in the concluding section involves a reversal of the common methodological commitment in psychology (cf. Semin, 1996). 3.2.1.The Classification and its criteria: The Linguistic Category Model (LCM) is a classificatory approach to the domain of interpersonal terms which consists of interpersonal (transitive) verbs that are tools used to describe actions (help, push, cheat, surprise) or psychological states (love, hate, abhor) and adjectives that are employed to describe characteristics of persons (e.g., extroverted, helpful, religious).

The analytic cut at which the Linguistic Category Model is offered is at a level that goes beyond particular semantic domains (such as presumed responsibility, Fillenbaum & Rapaport, 1971; Fillmore, 1971a, b) or the relationships between terms within specific semantic domains such as trait terms (adjectives, cf. Semin, 1989).There are a variety of classifications of interpersonal verbs in the literature with a certain degree of convergence between them (e.g., Abelson & Kanouse, 1966; Brown, 1986; Brown & Fish, 1983; Gilson & Abelson, 1965; McArthur, 1972; Semin & Greenslade, 1985). The classification furnished by the LCM does not necessarily contradict or conflict with previous classifications. It is nevertheless more differentiated on a certain level and less so on another level. In principle, it starts with a simple observation and criterion, that has been previously made within the literature (e.g. Gilson & Abelson, 1965), namely between interpersonal terms that refer to observable events (verbs of action) and those that refer to unobservable events (verbs of state).

3.2.2.The Properties of Interpersonal Language: The inferences that are mediated by interpersonal verbs constituted the main research agenda in this field, rather than the systematic classification of the interpersonal domain – however important such classifications may be. This was undoubtedly due to the fact that interpersonal verbs presented a number of systematic and fascinating phenomena that asked for explanations. Indeed, the unusual properties of interpersonal verbs have literally drawn people to them. For instance, the very first studies that reported the ‘remarkable’ properties of interpersonal verbs were originally designed to investigate ‘inductive logic’ (Gilson & Abelson, 1965). What these authors discovered “as a surprise” (Gilson & Abelson, 1965, p. 304) was the powerful and systematic influence that interpersonal verbs exert upon generalizations.

This research program on the rules of generalization processes as a function of the types of interpersonal verbs flourished well into the early seventies, under the guidance of Abelson (e.g. Abelson & Kanouse, 1966; Kanouse, 1972; McArthur, 1972, inter alia- See Semin et al., 1996 for a detailed review). Independently, in linguistics there has been a brief interest in the causal properties of transitive verbs which complemented the work done in psychology ((e.g., Caramazza et al., 1977; Garvey & Caramazza, 1974; Garvey, Caramazza & Yates, 1976). More recently, there has been a renewed interest in this subject since Brown and Fish (1983) revived the interest in the causality implicit in interpersonal verbs. Essentially, these authors were able to demonstrate a ‘phenomenon’, namely that verbs of action (e.g., help, cheat, kick) and verbs of state (e.g., like, adore, abhor) systematically mediate inferences about who initiates an event. Indeed, this is probably the most widely researched aspect of interpersonal verbs (e.g., Au, 1986, Brown & Fish, 1983; Fiedler & Semin, 1988; Semin & Marsman, 1994, inter alia).


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