Concept Abstractness and the Representation of Noun-Noun Combinations

Xu Xu, Lisa Paulson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Research on noun-noun combinations has been largely focusing on concrete concepts. Three experiments examined the role of concept abstractness in the representation of noun-noun combinations. In Experiment 1, participants provided written interpretations for phrases constituted by nouns of varying degrees of abstractness. Interpretive focus (the modifier, the head noun, or both) for each noun-noun phrase was evaluated. In Experiment 2, a different group of participants directly indicated which noun, the modifier or the head noun, was the focus of the meaning of each noun-noun phrase. Finally, participants in Experiment 3 assessed similarity of noun-noun phrases with overlapping modifiers. If abstractness of constituent nouns affects information distribution between modifier and head noun, it would accordingly affect similarity ratings for noun-noun phrases with overlapping modifiers. Results showed that the pattern of information distribution within a noun-noun phrase differed between phrases with abstract head nouns and phrases with concrete head nouns. Specifically, the center of representation was more on the head noun side for phrases with concrete head nouns, whereas the center seemed to shift to the direction of the modifier for phrases with abstract head nouns. Some issues related to effects of concept abstractness on noun-noun combinations are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)413-431
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Psycholinguistic Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language


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