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Demonstrative Reference and Semantic Space: A Large-Scale Demonstrative Choice Task Study

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Spatial demonstratives (words like this and that) have been thought to primarily be used for carving up space into a peripersonal and extrapersonal domain. However, when given a noun out of context and asked to couple it with a demonstrative, speakers tend to choose this for words denoting manipulable objects (small, harmless, and inanimate), while non-manipulable objects (large, harmful, and animate) are more likely to be coupled with that. Here, we extend these findings using the Demonstrative Choice Task (DCT) procedure and map demonstrative use along a wide spectrum of semantic features. We conducted a large-scale (N = 2197) DCT experiment eliciting demonstratives for 506 words, rated across 65 + 11 perceptually and cognitively relevant semantic dimensions. We replicated the finding that demonstrative choice is influenced by object manipulability. Demonstrative choice was furthermore found to be related to a set of additional semantic factors, including valence, arousal, loudness, motion, time and more generally, the self. Importantly, demonstrative choices were highly structured across participants, as shown by a strong correlation detected in a split-sample comparison of by-word demonstrative choices. We argue that the DCT may be used to map a generalized semantic space anchored in the self of the speaker, the self being an extension of the body beyond physical space into a multidimensional semantic space.
Original languageEnglish
Article number629
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Volume11
Number of pages10
ISSN1664-1078
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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