To drag, to push, to give a push: Sensory-motor structures in the mental images of three causal verbs  [presentation, ppt, 1439 kB]

Schepis A., Zuczkowski A., Biassoni F., Karp N., Bianchi I.
First author's affiliation: Università degli studi di Macerata, Macerata, Italy

The leading hypothesis of the present contribution is that the mental image activated by a linguistic signifier - in particular, the causal verbs to drag, to push, and to give a push, studied in their perceptual structure by Michotte - are referable to underlying schemata grounded in perceptual experience. The Gestaltist approach of Michotte with particular reference to his hypotheses of the prefiguration and derivation of the semantic structures from the perceptual ones is conjugated here with more recent contributions coming from other fields (Jackendoff 1997, Talmy 2000, Barsalou 2003, Langacker 2004). Three methodologically analogous studies (one for each verb) have been conducted, each one divided into two phases. In the first phase, 2 groups of 5 subjects described and drew the mental image activated by the verb under examination. Among different representations, the common structural characteristics were individuated and constituted the base for the formulation of a questionnaire specific for the given verb. In the second phase, a wide sample of subjects was asked to produce a mental image related to the verb, to describe and to draw it, and to answer the questionnaire. The data analysis was either qualitative (descriptions and drawings) and quantitative (questionnaire’s answers). The results confirmed the existence of structural invariant characteristics comparable among the three verbs, concerning in particular topological (reciprocal position, contact, plane), kinetic (speed, direction, nature of the motion), dimensional (size, weight) and kinesthetic features (resistance, friction, effort). The theoretical and practical implications concern the intensional and extensional representation of meaning.