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Do bilinguals have different concepts? The case of shape and material in Japanese L2 users of English

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Publication details

JournalInternational Journal of Bilingualism
DatePublished - 2006
Issue number2
Number of pages1
Pages (from-to)137
Original languageEnglish


An experiment investigated whether Japanese speakers’ categorisation of objects and substances as shape or material is influenced by acquiring English, based on Imai and Gentner (1997). Subjects were presented with an item such as a cork pyramid and asked to choose between two other items that matched it for shape (plastic pyramid) or for material (piece of cork). The hypotheses were that for simple objects the number of shape-based categorisations would increase according to experience of English and that the preference for shape and material-based categorisations of Japanese speakers of English would differ from mono¬lingual speakers of both languages. Subjects were 18 adult Japanese users of English who had lived in English-speaking countries between 6 months and 3 years (short-stay group), and 18 who had lived in English-speaking countries for 3 years or more (long-stay group). Both groups achieved above criterion on an English vocabulary test. Results were: both groups preferred material responses for simple objects and substances but not for complex objects, in line with Japanese mono¬linguals, but the long-stay group showed more shape preference than the short-stay group and also were less different from Americans. These effects of acquiring a second language on categorisation have implications for conceptual representation and methodology.

    Research areas

  • bilingualism, thought, cognition, classification, linguistic relativity, whorf, japanese

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