The body and the fading away of abstract concepts and words: a sign language analysis

One of the most important challenges for embodied and grounded theories of cognition concerns the representation of abstract concepts, such as "freedom." Many embodied theories of abstract concepts have been proposed. Some proposals stress the similarities between concrete and abstract concepts showing that they are both grounded in perception and action system while other emphasize their difference favoring a multiple representation view. An influential view proposes that abstract concepts are mapped to concrete ones through metaphors. Furthermore, some theories underline the fact that abstract concepts are grounded in specific contents, as situations, introspective states, emotions. These approaches are not necessarily mutually exclusive, since it is possible that they can account for different subsets of abstract concepts and words. One novel and fruitful way to understand the way in which abstract concepts are represented is to analyze how sign languages encode concepts into signs. In the present paper we will discuss these theoretical issues mostly relying on examples taken from Italian Sign Language (LIS, Lingua dei Segni ltaliana), the visual-gestural language used within the Italian Deaf community. We will verify whether and to what extent LIS signs provide evidence favoring the different theories of abstract concepts. In analyzing signs we will distinguish between direct forms of involvement of the body and forms in which concepts are grounded differently, for example relying on linguistic experience. In dealing with the LIS evidence, we will consider the possibility that different abstract concepts are represented using different levels of embodiment. The collected evidence will help us to discuss whether a unitary embodied theory of abstract concepts is possible or whether the different theoretical proposals can account for different aspects of their representation.

Tipo Pubblicazione: 
Author or Creator: 
Borghi, Anna M.
Capirci, Olga
Gianfreda, Gabriele
Volterra, Virginia
Frontiers Research Foundation, Switzerland
Frontiers in Psychology 5 (2014). doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00811
info:cnr-pdr/source/autori:Borghi, Anna M.; Capirci, Olga; Gianfreda, Gabriele; Volterra, Virginia/titolo:The body and the fading away of abstract concepts and words: a sign language analysis/doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00811/rivista:Frontiers in Psychology/an
Resource Identifier:
ISTC Author: 
Ritratto di Olga Capirci
Real name: