Compound words prompt arbitrary semantic associations in conceptual memory

Bastien Boutonnet, Rhonda McClain, Guillaume Thierry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Linguistic relativity theory has received empirical support in domains such as color perception and object categorization. It is unknown, however, whether relations between words idiosyncratic to language impact non-verbal representations and conceptualizations. For instance, would one consider the concepts of horse and sea as related were it not for the existence of the compound seahorse? Here, we investigated such arbitrary conceptual relationships using a non-linguistic picture relatedness task in participants undergoing event-related brain potential recordings. Picture pairs arbitrarily related because of a compound and presented in the compound order elicited N400 amplitudes similar to unrelated pairs. Surprisingly, however, pictures presented in the reverse order (as in the sequence horse-sea) reduced N400 amplitudes significantly, demonstrating the existence of a link in memory between these two concepts otherwise unrelated. These results break new ground in the domain of linguistic relativity by revealing predicted semantic associations driven by lexical relations intrinsic to language.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberArticle 222
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberMAR
StatePublished - 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'Compound words prompt arbitrary semantic associations in conceptual memory'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this