Verbs, events and spatial representations

Anjan Chatterjee, M. Helen Southwood, David Basilico

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

111 Citations (Scopus)


Are concepts expressed in language also represented spatially? To pursue this question We investigated the structure of events. Events are defined as actions with spatial trajectories that can be perceived by our senses and described in language. Events are expressed linguistically in sentences containing verbs which determine the thematic roles of the arguments (e.g., who is doing what to whom, where). Because of previous observations we focused on whether events are represented spatially by location of thematic roles and direction of actions. Location and direction were dissociated by contrasting different kinds of verbs: 'push' vs 'pull' in which actions move toward or away from the agent. To control for spatial effects produced by the surface structure of a left to right written language, we kept the structure of sentences constant and sought for spatial biases produced by differences in the meaning of these sentences. From three experiments using drawing and sentence-picture matching reaction time tasks, we found that normal subjects located agents to the left of patients and represented actions with a left to right directionality. These results are not easily explained by features of the surface structure of language or properties of propositional representations. We suggest that events have spatial representations in addition to their propositional counterparts of verbs and thematic roles. The specific spatial properties observed may relate to functional properties of the left hemisphere.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)395-402
Number of pages8
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 1999
Externally publishedYes


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