Vision, space, and embodiment: Interpretation of English idioms by Serbian students

The study tries to evaluate two approaches to conceptualisation by testing how Serbian respondents interpret literally translated English idioms. The development of concepts is a pressing issue in cognitive science and the importance of visuo-spatial relations on the one hand and embodiment on the other in this process is particularly stressed, depending on the approach. We have presented 90 undergraduate Serbian students with no formal training in English with literally translated English idiomatic expressions and asked them to guess their meanings. The goal was to investigate whether the expressions would be properly interpreted and whether there would be differences in the degree of correct interpretation between the groups of idioms offered. The idioms had no direct equivalents in Serbian and were classified into three groups: (1) visuo-spatial bodily idioms; (2) bodily only idioms; (3) random non-bodily idioms. The results suggest that there is a clear difference between the understanding of the three groups of idioms: those with the visuo-spatial component are understood best, followed by idioms referring to the body only and random idioms respectively. This result could provide some support to the idea that embodiment, especially when coupled with visual cognition, is a primary source of conceptualisation.

Keywords: vision, space, embodiment, conceptualization, idioms

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