Table of Contents:
Differentiating between concrete and abstract words has a long research tradition, with particular focus, as in this study, on the sub classification within nouns.
Numerous attempts have been made to classify words in terms of their concreteness. The resulting diverse definitions vary both in terms of the criteria used to define concreteness, as well as the related view on the characteristics of concreteness. Alongside strict dichotomous approaches, which are characterized by a clear distinction between concrete and abstract (Conrad 1986, Wode 1988), continuous (Schierholz 1991, Ewald 1992) and dynamic models (Kronasser 1952, Wiemer-Hastings 2001) are also discussed in this study. The continuous perspective regards concreteness as a continuum from a concrete to an abstract state, with fluid transitions in-between. The dynamic view claims interactions between the concrete and the abstract and defines factors to explain the transformation from concrete to abstract words and vice versa.
Based on the possibility of dynamic interactions between concrete and abstract, this paper studies an important dimension related to concreteness which, until now, has seldom been considered; the distinction between ontological and conceptual. Ontological concreteness is grounded in criteria that are defined by a word’s reference object, i.e. concreteness arises from the object’s characteristics enabling it to be perceived sensorily. On the other hand, conceptual concreteness refers to a person’s experience with the reference object, the effects on his environment, and the integration and expansion of these experiences in the conceptualization. The result is a concretization based on an enrichment of features (cf. Kronasser 1952). The potential for transition from abstract to concrete implies a dynamic view on the meaning of words, a view that is characteristic for cognitive linguistics theories. Within this research field, conceptual metaphors are used as examples to make this dynamic clear and comprehensible; e.g. the metaphor THEORIES ARE BUILDINGS. The abstract concept theories, becomes concrete by mapping features from the more concrete concept buildings to the abstract one. Based on this mapping, the concept theories is endowed with more features (e.g. theories have a foundation, theories are built) and thus becomes more concrete. In addition, within embodied cognition theories, metaphors play an important role in abstract concepts and in the question of how abstract words are physically grounded and represented. Metaphors build a potential bridge to the physical by mapping concrete attributes to abstract concepts. As metaphors demonstrate the dynamics of concretization, they should be considered in any investigation into concrete and abstract words. Therefore, a key element of this study is to model the role of abstract words as a means of concretization, through the use of metaphorical figures.
The overall aim of this paper is to develop a broad, systematic, theoretical framework to assess concreteness and, on this basis, to study the influence of concreteness on word processing and usage. The central research questions are: Which criteria of ontological concreteness have an impact on word production? What impact does conceptual concreteness have on word production? How do different experiences of sensory perception impact word production? To answer the latter question, people with differing levels of sensory perception will be compared in terms of their concrete and abstract word production processing and usage. The three study groups are based on people who are blind from birth (reduced sensory perception), synaesthetic (additive sensory perception) and sighted/non-synaesthetic (neutral sensory perception).