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Language effects on the conceptualization of hybrids*


The current study investigates the conceptual hierarchy of humans−animals−plants−non-animate objects by using novel hybrids. Three experiments were conducted. In Experiment 1, twenty-one participants were presented with a grammatically asymmetrical phrase, in which the two components are associated with different linguistic properties, (e.g., a man with a horse’s head) followed by a visual hybrid, and were asked to judge whether the phrase described the hybrid. In Experiment 2, thirty participants were presented with a visual hybrid and were asked to categorize it according to one of its visually presented components in a forced-choice judgment task. In Experiment 3, twenty-nine participants were presented with a visual hybrid that followed a grammatically symmetrical phrase, in which both components carry similar grammatical properties (e.g., half-human half-horse), and were asked to judge whether the phrase described the hybrid. A conceptual hierarchy effect was found in Experiment 1 but not in the other two experiments. These findings show that the hierarchy effect occurs only in verbal tasks that involve asymmetrical grammatical constructions. We suggest that the pragmatic tendency to map the hierarchically higher concept onto the higher grammatical function applies to asymmetrical constructions but not to symmetrical constructions.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Dr Nira Mashal, School of Education, Bar-Ilan University, Israel. tel: (972)-3-5317178; fax: (972)-3-7384029; e-mail:
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This research was supported by Grant No. 969-07 from the Israel Science Foundation of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities to the second author.

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Language and Cognition
  • ISSN: 1866-9808
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