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Quantifying semantic animacy: How much are words alive?



The main goal of this study, which comprised two experimental tasks and three normative studies, was to describe the underlying distribution of semantic animacy, with the focus on Serbian and English. Animacy was measured using three normative techniques. The cognitive effects of obtained measures were tested in two experiments conducted in both Serbian and English: a visual lexical decision task and a semantic categorization task. Results suggest that semantic animacy is a graded property. A high correlation between Serbian and English measures suggests that semantic animacy might be language independent, most likely because of its biological grounding. As for its behavioral correlates, animacy does not affect lexical decision times but it does codetermine the categorization speed: the category decision gradually slows as a function of the degree of animacy. These results were consistent across two languages under research scrutiny. We thus conclude that animacy is a continuous aspect of meaning.


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ADDRESS FOR CORRESPONDENCE Jelena Radanović, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Philosophy, Dr Zorana Đinđića 2, Novi Sad 21000, Serbia. E-mail:


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