Verb Inflection Cues Perspective-Taking in Spanish
Cheatham, William R.
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Traditional theories of cognition hold that meaning is based on the manipulation of abstract symbols devoid of perceptual and motor content. Linguistic meaning on this view is to be understood as a network of amodal (i.e., non-sensorimotor) representations. Alternatively, recent research suggests that bodily experience grounds higher cognitive abilities, including language. Meaning on this view derives from dynamically updating on- and offline simulations of context-specific sensorimotor knowledge. Linguistic cues enable communicators to specify intersubjectively meaningful simulations based on this shared bodily mechanism for understanding. The first part of the present paper is devoted to a review of theories of embodied cognition. In both behavioral and neuroscientific studies, comprehension of various kinds of language elicits perceptuomotor simulation. Pronouns, for instance, cue visual simulation of the subject-person's perspective in both English and Japanese. However, without pronouns, Japanese speakers show no perspective effects. The second part of the paper introduces a study that sought to determine whether .subject-person indicators other than pronouns cue perspectival simulation. When Spanish speakers drop pronouns, they still must include verbal inflection as a subject-person indicator. We asked native speakers of Spanish to verify that a picture matched the content of a preceding sentence, with picture perspective (actor/observer) and subject-person (second/third) as within-participant variables. Reaction times revealed an interaction effect of subject-person and picture perspective, suggesting that verbal inflection cues a visual simulation of the sentence-subject's perspective in native speakers of Spanish, even in the absence of pronouns.