Daily Archives: July 7, 2008

Does the mind conceptualize action in a ‘language neutral’ manner?

Linguists and other language researchers established long ago that the vast majority of natural human languages that use word order construct sentences in one of two ways: subject-verb-object (SVO) order, such as English and Spanish, or subject-object-verb (SOV) order, such as Hindi, Persian and Japanese.  This report from Science Daily describes new research from Goldin-Meadow et. al. at the U. of Chicago which suggests that

[The human] mind apparently has a consistent way of ordering an event that defies the order in which subjects, verbs, and objects typically appear in languages…

“Not surprisingly, speakers of different languages describe events using the word orders prescribed by their language. The surprise is that when the same speakers are asked to ‘speak’ with their hands and not their mouths, they ignore these orders — they all use exactly the same order when they gesture,” said Susan Goldin-Meadow, lead author of a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study is available from the National Academy of Sciences Web site here (PDF).