The Associative Structure of the Mental Lexicon: Hierarchical Semantic Relations in the Minds of Blind and Sighted Language Users

Nawoja Mikołajczak-Matyja 1
  • 1 Institute of Linguistics, Faculty of Modern Languages and Literature, Adam Mickiewicz University, Al. Niepodległości 4, 61-874 Poznań, Poland


This paper concerns the role of hierarchical semantic relations: class inclusion and partwhole relations as factors organising the mental lexicon, and the dependence of their importance on visual perception and visual memories, as demonstrated by the results of a free association task. 58 blind and 58 sighted language users were instructed to give associations for a list of 75 Polish nouns. Semantic analysis showed that more than 40% of the whole corpus of answers was related to stimuli through the part-whole or class inclusion relations. The results of the analysis indicated many similarities, concerning both types of relations, in the feedback obtained from the blind and sighted respondents. However, the blind participants showed a significantly stronger tendency to respond with inclusive terms (hyperonyms of the stimuli) than the sighted respondents. Th e results were interpreted in terms of the specificity of the compensation processes.

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