• The language of action. How language translates the dynamics of our actions.
  • Gianelli, Claudia <1981>


  • M-PSI/02 Psicobiologia e psicologia fisiologica


  • The general aim of the thesis was to investigate how and to what extent the characteristics of action organization are reflected in language, and how they influence language processing and understanding. Even though a huge amount of research has been devoted to the study of the motor effects of language, this issue is very debated in literature. Namely, the majority of the studies have focused on low-level motor effects such as effector-relatedness of action, whereas only a few studies have started to systematically investigate how specific aspects of action organization are encoded and reflected in language. After a review of previous studies on the relationship between language comprehension and action (chapter 1) and a critical discussion of some of them (chapter 2), the thesis is composed by three experimental chapters, each devoted to a specific aspect of action organization. Chapter 3 presents a study designed with the aim to disentangle the effective time course of the involvement of the motor system during language processing. Three kinematics experiments were designed in order to determine whether and, at which stage of motor planning and execution effector-related action verbs influence actions executed with either the same or a different effector. Results demonstrate that the goal of an action can be linguistically re-activated, producing a modulation of the motor response. In chapter 4, a second study investigates the interplay between the role of motor perspective (agent) and the organization of action in motor chains. More specifically, this kinematics study aims at deepening how goal can be translated in language, using as stimuli simple sentences composed by a pronoun (I, You, He/She) and a verb. Results showed that the perspective activated by the pronoun You reflects the motor pattern of the “agent” combined with the chain structure of the verb. These data confirm an early involvement of the motor system in language processing, suggesting that it is specifically modulated by the activation of the agent’s perspective. In chapter 5, the issue of perspective is specifically investigated, focusing on its role in language comprehension. In particular, this study aimed at determining how a specific perspective (induced for example by a personal pronoun) modulates motor behaviour during and after language processing. A classical compatibility effect (the Action-sentence compatibility effect) has been used to this aim. In three behavioural experiments the authors investigated how the ACE is modulated by taking first or third person perspective. Results from these experiments showed that the ACE effect occurs only when a first-person perspective is activated by the sentences used as stimuli. Overall, the data from this thesis contributed to disentangle several aspects of how action organization is translated in language, and then reactivated during language processing. This constitutes a new contribution to the field, adding lacking information on how specific aspects such as goal and perspective are linguistically described. In addition, these studies offer a new point of view to understand the functional implications of the involvement of the motor system during language comprehension, specifically from the point of view of our social interactions.


  • 2010-05-28


  • Doctoral Thesis
  • PeerReviewed


  • application/pdf



Gianelli, Claudia (2010) The language of action. How language translates the dynamics of our actions. , [Dissertation thesis], Alma Mater Studiorum Università di Bologna. Dottorato di ricerca in Neuroscienze cognitive , 22 Ciclo. DOI 10.6092/unibo/amsdottorato/3050.