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Action in cognition: The case of language

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 March 2014

Lawrence J. Taylor*
Erasmus University of Rotterdam
Rolf A. Zwaan
Erasmus University of Rotterdam
Correspondence address: Lawrence J. Taylor, Department of Psychology, Erasmus University Rotterdam, NL-3000 DR, Rotterdam, the Netherlands. E-mail:


Empirical research has shown that the processing of words and sentences is accompanied by activation of the brain's motor system in language users. The degree of precision observed in this activation seems to be contingent upon (1) the meaning of a linguistic construction and (2) the depth with which readers process that construction. In addition, neurological evidence shows a correspondence between a disruption in the neural correlates of overt action and the disruption of semantic processing of language about action. These converging lines of evidence can be taken to support the hypotheses that motor processes (1) are recruited to understand language that focuses on actions and (2) contribute a unique element to conceptual representation. This article explores the role of this motor recruitment in language comprehension. It concludes that extant findings are consistent with the theorized existence of multimodal, embodied representations of the referents of words and the meaning carried by language. Further, an integrative conceptualization of “fault tolerant comprehension” is proposed.

Research Article
Copyright © UK Cognitive Linguistics Association 2009

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