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THE PSYCHOLOGY OF NAMES, NOUNS, AND VERBS

Barbara Birch

Ph.D. Dissertation, 1989

Abstract

There is ample indication from philosophy, psychology, and linguistics that proper names are cognitively and semantically different from other words because proper names rely on one cognitive ability: naming, while other content words rely on another cognitive ability: predication, or categorization. Proper names that refer to people involve three areas of memory: a concept of the individual stored in memory for particulars, a generic concept of NAME stored in semantic memory, and the orthographic/phonetic representations of the name in the lexicon. The use of definite and indefinite descriptions also relies on three types of memory: a singular category concept in memory for particulars, the generic meaning concept in semantic memory, and the word stored in the mental lexicon. Definite of indefinite descriptions are referential if the singular category concept is linked to one 'peg' in memory, while the description is attributive if the singular category concept is allowed to range over possible individuals satisfying category membership. Proper names that are not referential are stored in two areas of memory in the following way: the name is listed in the lexicon but it is merely linked to the wordless meaning concept NAME in semantic memory. Other content words are listed in the lexicon as well, of course, but they are linked up to underlying meaning concepts in semantic memory only. Nouns are not linked to an underlying concept of NOUN and verbs are not linked to an underlying concept of VERB in semantic memory. A free recall study of the clustering effect of words by grammatical category showed that proper names cluster strongly, but other content words do not cluster by grammatical category. Notions like 'noun' and 'verb' are found to be only lexical distinctions, not based on inherent cognitive or semantic differences between nouns and verbs. Rather, 'noun' and 'verb' are imposed on wordless concepts as the speaker chooses the syntax and words needed to express his/her thoughts. Some implications for the organization of the lexicon are examined. Some suggestions are offered about the properties of concepts and conceptual structures and some recent conceptual theories are evaluated with respect to those properties.


 
 
Department of Linguistics University of Wisconsin-Madison

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