Evidence for relativistic effects in the construal of transitive events

During the last two decades, experimental evidence for language-mediated effects on cognition has surfaced in numerous studies. These studies relate to semantic fields as diverse as number, gender, spatial orientation, and color, inter alia. One subject that has received relatively little attention in such experimental research is the potential for relativistic effects on event construal. In this study we present evidence for such effects, by considering differing event discrimination strategies across two populations. The first of these is comprised of speakers of a language, Karitiâna, which obligatorily indexes verbs according to whether they denote semantically intransitive or semantically transitive events. The second of these is comprised of speakers of a language, English, whose grammar does not appeal to the distinction in the same manner. A triad-discrimination task was utilized to assess the rates at which Karitiâna speakers discriminate actions in a ‘transitivity-oriented' fashion. The results of the task suggest that Karitiâna speakers evince heightened transitivity-orientation when contrasted to English speakers. The results are generally consistent with a relativistic account. 

Key words: linguistic relativity, transitivity, ergativity, perception, Karitiâna


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