Can relationality be distinguished from abstractness in noun mutability?

Dedre Gentner, jennifer Asmuth

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Previous studies have suggested that relational concepts are more mutable—more prone to change meaning in context—than entity concepts even when both relational and entity concepts are denoted by nouns (Asmuth & Gentner, 2005; Feist & Férez, 2007). However, relationality is a complex dimension, and is highly correlated with other factors such as imageability and abstractness. In the current research, we compared the mutability of entity nouns and relational nouns while controlling for imageability (as well as frequency). People read these nouns in a given context and then had to recognize them in either the same or different context. We found that (1) participants showed greater recognition sensitivity for entity nouns than for relational nouns; and (2) recognition of relational nouns was more impaired by a change in context than was recognition of entity nouns. We conclude that the encoding of relational nouns is more influenced by context than the encoding of entity nouns and discuss parallels with encoding patterns for verbs and nouns.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 30th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society
EditorsVladimir Sloutsky, Brad Love, Ken McRae
PublisherCognitive Science Society
Number of pages6
ISBN (Print)978-0-9768318-4-6
StatePublished - 2008

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