Date of Award

8-1-2016

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Lakshmanan, Usha

Abstract

This study examines the relationship between language and cognition with a focus on Chinese numeral classifiers (CNCs). NCs are ideally suited to exploring the link between language and semantic categorization, as classifier selection depends on the physical attributes of the associated noun (e.g., Mandarin zhi is used for long and rigid objects and tiao for long and flexible objects). Previous studies on numeral classifiers have addressed the language-cognition link by comparing the cognitive performance of monolingual as well as bilingual speakers of different languages (Lucy, 1992; Saalbach & Imai, 2005; Gao & Malt, 2009). In contrast, the present study sought to address the cognitive effects of numeral classifiers via a training study that investigated whether exposure to CNCs influenced Native-English speakers’ object categorization preferences, inhibitory control and memory retrieval. The participants of this study were 99 Native-English speaking College students. They were randomly assigned to an experimental group, which received training on four commonly used CNCs during the initial phase of the experiment, or a control group, which did not receive similar treatment during the initial phase. After the initial phase, the experimental group and the control group were assessed on a Forced Choice Task, a Go/No-Go Task and a Memory Task. A Mixed-design ANOVA indicated that the experimental group displayed a preference for objects sharing the same classifier in the Forced Choice Task and the Go/ No-Go Task (i.e. Go trials) when compared to the controls. The effect of exposure to numeral classifiers on inhibitory control was supported with a significantly lower false alarm rate (in the No-Go trials) for the experimental group. However, no group differences were observed in the results of the analysis of the participants’ median reaction times in the Go/No-Go tasks. Similarly, the differences between the two groups’ scores on the Memory Task was not found to be significant. The results of the study indicated that exposure to CNCs influenced Native-English speakers’ categorization. The results also revealed partial support for the influence of exposure to CNCs on inhibitory processing, but not in the case of object clustering.

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