“Phonological and Semantic Distinctiveness of English Abstract and Concrete Words”
Abstract: Concrete words such as dog and desk are earlier learned, better recalled, and more resilient to neurological damage than abstract words such as love and trust. This phenomenon, known as the word concreteness effect, has been debated for millennia. Here I argue that the word concreteness effect reflects an interaction between form and meaning. Abstract words are longer and more phonologically complex than concrete words. Abstract words also differ in their semantic salience, tending to have higher emotion content than concrete words. Listeners are sensitive to both of these differences. I describe evidence for phonological distinctiveness of abstract and concrete words across numerous natural languages, as well as a novel model of word meaning that situates abstract and concrete words in the same high dimensional semantic space.