PhD Defense: Jenny Collins

Recent theories on language and concepts suggest that when comprehending the sentence, the deafening jets soared over the UCSD campus, we activate perceptual systems that have previously been used for hearing and seeing related events. There is a growing body of research in support of the idea that perceptual features interact with meaning comprehension, but the current research is not sufficient to describe how and why this interaction occurs. The work presented here investigates the processing mechanisms behind the integration of language and perceptual systems. The studies focus first on property terms such as deafening, shiny and rough, that describe experiences in different perceptual modalities, and then on motion verbs such as soar and tumble.

            The results verify that information about perceptual modality and motion direction is available during comprehension. Furthermore, the results suggest that the stages of processing at which perceptual features of language are accessible and used are variable. In the semantic domain of motion for example, the results show perceptual motion information in language is processed at a high cognitive level and is influenced by context. The conclusions that fall out of the varied results are that language meaning has perceptual components as initially suggested, but also that language meaning might be co-opted by perceptual processes. We must not confuse these two related possibilities when investigating the perceptual nature of meaning.