Society for Linguistic Anthropology
This study examined possible differences in cognition between Japanese and English speakers originating from differences in the grammar of the two languages. The specific grammatical construction of interest was the numeral classifier or “counting word” used in languages such as Japanese and Yucatec Maya. Evidence for differences in cognition as a result of these numeral classifiers exists for both of these languages, with Lucy’s study on Yucatec being the first. Following Lucy’s method, this study in particular investigated whether the content of the classifier system (i.e. which nouns are the ones actually grouped together grammatically) or simply the grammar of the system itself was more responsible for any cognitive effects. Due to the small testing pool (and possible interference due to the Japanese speakers’ bilingualism), results for the test were somewhat inconclusive, although there did seem to be evidence that supported both hypotheses. It was also proposed that there is merit to the idea that the classifier systems “open up” multiple sorting strategies rather than encourage a single ontology, perhaps explaining the inconsistencies found in the data. The study also raised a number of questions about Lucy’s method and this general domain of research into numeral classifiers, suggesting areas to experiment with variations in the method as well as places where the method should be more standardized.