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Word- vs. sentence-based simulation effects in
language comprehension
Chapter ? January 2012
1 38
3 authors, including:
Barbara Kaup Jana L?dtke
University of Tuebingen Freie Universit?t Berlin
Some of the authors of this publication are also working on these related projects:
Learning, Educational Achievement and Life Course Development: An Integrated Research and
Training Programme View project
Neurocognitive Poetics View project
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Word- vs. sentence-based simulation effects in
language comprehension
Barbara Kaup, Jana L?dtke, & Ilona Steiner
1. Introduction1
In the literature on language comprehension many authors nowadays
assume that comprehenders understand language by mentally simulating
the described objects, events and situations. These simulations are assumed
to be experiential in nature as they are grounded in perception and action
(Barsalou, 2008; Glenberg & Kaschak, 2002; Zwaan, 2004). More
specifically, according to this simulation view of language comprehension,
each interaction with the world leaves experiential traces in the brain.
These traces are partially re-activated when people read or hear words
referring to the respective entities. If words appear in larger phrases or
sentences, the activated traces are presumably combined to yield
simulations consistent with the meaning of the larger phrase or sentence
(Zwaan & Madden 2005). There is a steadily growing body of evidence for
this view. On the one hand there are neuroscience studies indicating a
considerate overlap between the mental subsystems utilized in representing
linguistically specified states of affairs and those utilized in direct
experience. For instance, studies using brain imaging techniques have
shown that the processing of linguistic materials referring to actions that
are typically performed with certain effectors (e.g., to lick, to kick, to
grasp) activates those sections of the premotor and motor cortex that are
specific for actions with the respective effector (Hauk, Johnsrude, &
Pulverm?ller, 2004; Tettamanti et al., 2005). Similarly, studies using
transcranial magnetic stimulation have found that motor evoked potentials
recorded from hand and foot muscles are specifically modulated by
listening to hand-action-related vs. foot-action-related sentences,
respectively (e.g., He threw/ kicked the ball; Buccino et al., 2005; Glenberg
et al., 2008).
Kaup, B., L?dtke, J., & Steiner, I. (2012). Word- vs. sentence-
based simulation effects in language comprehension. In B.
Stolterfoht & S. Featherston (Eds.), Empirical Approaches to
Linguistic Theory: Studies in Meaning and Structure. Berlin:
Berlin: de Gruyter.
2 Barbara Kaup, Jana L?dtke, & Ilona Steiner
In addition, numerous behavioural studies have provided evidence that
linguistic and non-linguistic cognition interact. A particularly elegant
paradigm was introduced by Glenberg & Kaschak (2002). In a sentence-
sensibility-judgment task, participants were presented with sentences that
described an action involving a movement either towards or away from the
body (e.g., You opened / closed the drawer). For half of the participants the
correct response involved a movement towards their body, for the other
half a movement away from their body. Thus, the movement implied by the
sentence either matched or mismatched the required response movement.
In line with the idea that comprehenders mentally simulate the described
actions when understanding the sentence, reading times were significantly
faster in the match than in the mismatch conditions. Similar effects have
been found in studies presenting isolated words. For instance, processing
words like up vs. down or towards vs. away is facilitated if the correct
response requires a matching rather than a mismatching movement (e.g.,
Lindsay, 2007). Also, for words referring to entities typically encountered
in the upper vs. lower part of the visual field (e.g., hair vs. shoe)
processing is facilitated when correctly responding requires an up vs. down
response (e.g., Borghi, Glenberg, & Kaschak, 2004; Lachmair, Dudschig,
de Filippis, de la Vega, & Kaup, in press; see also Estes, Verges, &
Barsalou, 2008). In addition to these studies (providing evidence for the
simulations view of language comprehension with respect to motor
aspects) there are many behavioural studies providing evidence with
respect to perceptual aspects of described states of affairs. For instance, in
a study by Stanfield and Zwaan (2001), participants read sentences
referring to a particular target entity. The sentences either implied a
horizontal or a vertical orientation of the target entity (e.g., (1) and (2)
respectively). Responding to a subsequently presented picture of the target
entity was facilitated if the picture matched the orientation implied by the
sentence. Similar results were obtained for the shape of the entities
mentioned in a sentence. Zwaan, Stanfield and Yaxley (2002) presented
sentences such as (3) and (4), which depending on the last word in the
sentence, implied different shapes of the target entity. Picture-recognition
and picture-naming latencies were significantly faster if the depicted shape
matched the implied shape (i.e., an eagle with wings outstretched for (3),
drawn in for (4)) compared to when it mismatched. The results of these
latter studies fit nicely with the idea that readers mentally simulate the
described state of affairs when comprehending the sentences. Matching
pictures are primed by the simulations that were activated during sentence

How do you use the word into in a sentence? When dealing with basic sentence structure, you only need to acknowledge three components: subject predicate (verb or verb phrase) direct/indirect object