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date: 10 December 2022

Language and Social Cognitionlocked

Language and Social Cognitionlocked

  • Anne Maass, Anne MaassNew York University Abu Dhabi
  • Carmen CervoneCarmen CervoneUniversity of Padua
  •  and Ilayda OzdemirIlayda OzdemirNew York University


Language and social cognition are closely intertwined, as originally predicted by Whorf. On the one side, social cognition is affected by structural differences between languages in vocabulary, grammar, and syntax, and, on the other side, by the specific linguistic choices that speakers make. The four most prominent language features that have been found to affect social cognition are grammatical gender, pronoun drop, word classes, and word order. Grammatical gender, although a largely arbitrary feature of nouns in grammatical-gender language, is projected onto objects and determines which social groups will come to mind. For instance, generic masculine terms tend to activate primarily male exemplars while making women invisible. Pronoun drop allows speakers to describe actions without specifying who is performing the action and is strongly linked to collectivism (vs. individualism). Different word classes (verbs, adjectives, nouns) carry metalinguistic information above and beyond specific semantic content of any specific word, as in the case of verbs that uniquely communicate agency. Finally, the order in which they are arranged affects attention and conveys social information about the relative status, power, and responsibility of the protagonists mentioned. Together, these subtle language tools tend to fulfill a wide range of functions in social cognition: they drive attention to specific protagonists or social categories, while making others invisible; they guide social categorization; they influence the perception of individuals or groups on different dimensions such as agency, power, status, masculinity, and importance; they affect causal attributions; they maintain or change stereotypes; they communicate ingroup enhancement and outgroup derogation; and they maintain broad cultural views such as collectivism vs. individualism.


  • Social Psychology

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