Construal in language: A visual-world approach to the effects of linguistic alternations on event perception and conception

Cognitive Linguistics 31 (1):37-72 (2020)
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Abstract

The theoretical notion of ‘construal’ captures the idea that the way in which we describe a scene reflects our conceptualization of it. Relying on the concept of ception – which conjoins conception and perception – we operationalized construal and employed a Visual World Paradigm to establish which aspects of linguistic scene description modulate visual scene perception, thereby affecting event conception. By analysing viewing behaviour after alternating ways of describing location (prepositions), agentivity (active/passive voice) and transfer (NP/pp datives), we found that the linguistic construal of a scene affects its spontaneous visual perception in two ways: either by determining the order in which the components of a scene are accessed or by modulating the distribution of attention over the components, making them more or less salient than they naturally are. We also found evidence for the existence of a cline in the construal effect with stronger expressive differences, such as the prepositional manipulation, inducing more prominent changes in visual perception than the dative manipulation. We discuss the claims language can lay to affecting visual information uptake and hence conceptualization of a static scene in the light of these results.

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