Language and thought : classifier effect in early and late bilinguals
Date of Issue2011
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
Classifiers have been found to influence the conceptual organization of speakers of Mandarin Chinese, which can also be termed the classifier effect. As such, studies have deemed classifier categories to be conceptual categories and not arbitrary systems. Hence, it is argued that classifier system is a distinguished grammatical form of word class in Mandarin Chinese that serves a semantic function in categorizing objects. This in turn, draws a direct link of interest to the theory of linguistic relativity (i.e. Sapir-Whorf hypothesis), as this meant that speakers of classifier languages could possibly categorize objects and think about the world differently as compared to speakers of non-classifier languages. Support has been found for linguistic relativity with studies showing that Chinese speakers used implicit knowledge of classifier categories and group objects that shared the same classifiers to be more similar to each other. On the other hand, this view has also been opposed by studies that provided evidence that classifier relations are not as dominant and salient as taxonomic relations. Therefore, claiming that the effect of classifier categories is limited. Following what previous studies have found, this current study is interested in determining the degree of classifier effect, albeit expected to be smaller than that of taxonomic relations. Also, this study extends to the area of bilingualism, looking at Chinese and English early and late bilinguals. Singapore and People’s Republic of China (PRC) participants were recruited, making up the early bilingual and late bilingual groups respectively. Prime-target noun pairs bounded by three different conditions, functional or thematic related, classifier related and unrelated conditions were used as the stimuli. A rating of relatedness task, and recall of nouns task based on the prime-target noun pairs formed the basis of these experiments. It was found that for both tasks, only functionally or thematically related prime-target noun pairs exhibited a significant difference in the responses of the participants, compared to the other two conditions. For the rating of relatedness, results showed that PRC participants exhibited a classifier effect as they rated classifier related noun pairs to be more similar than the unrelated noun pairs. However, classifier effect was not found for the recall task for the PRC participants. In comparison, results for the Singaporean participants were similar for both tasks and no classifier effects were found. Implications from the results suggest that classifier effect is present, but in a weak manner.
Final Year Project (FYP)