B2: "Concepts and Word Meanings: Representational and Processing Issues" (Berry Claus)

Tue 9.15-10.45, Wed 11.15-12.45, Thu 14.15-15.45, Fri 16.15-17.45

Room: 0.01




Hearing or reading a word such as chocolate will trigger various associations, some of which can be stated on a more abstract level (e.g. edible, sweet) whereas others relate to sensorimotor experiences (e.g. specific smell and taste, biting and breaking) or to affective states. To put it more generally, incoming words activate lexicosemantic and conceptual knowledge. This course will focus on the processing and representation of word meanings and concepts. Its aim is to provide an overview of the field by taking both a linguistic and psychological perspective into consideration. Theoretical approaches to semantic and conceptual knowledge are diverse and differ in their starting points and main foci. They range, for example, from classical feature theories that restrict concepts to defining features to prototype theories that place emphasis on the vagueness of concepts, and to knowledge approaches that stress the role of general knowledge and reasoning processes in conceptual processing. Other theoretical approaches include the exemplar view according to which a concept is the set of all remembered individual concept exemplars, as well as connectionist models which assume a distributed representation of conceptual knowledge via microfeatures. A more recent framework is the experiential simulation view which is related to both connectionist models and the exemplar view; it assumes that concepts are grounded in direct experience and proposes that a concept is an integration of distributed representations in modality-specific mental subsystems. In the course, we will review these frameworks, assess their empirical validity and theoretical soundness, and discuss their mutual (in)compatibility. Besides, we will address specific (and partially theory-neutral) topics such as

  • conceptual taxonomies/basic level
  • conceptual combination and compositionality
  • distinction between abstract and concrete concepts
  • permanent vs. temporary conceptual representations

Moreover, we will look into issues of debate such as

  • Are concepts equivalent to word meanings or are they distinct?
  • Does language shape conceptual processing?
  • What is the role of statistical language patterns in conceptual and semantic processing?
  • What is the role of experiential simulations in conceptual and semantic processing?


Lecturer: Berry Claus, HU Berlin