Classifier effects on human categorization: The role of shape classifiers in Mandarin Chinese

Jenny Yi Chun Kuo, Maria D. Sera

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Chinese is a language that classifies nouns into groups on the basis of shape, material, and size. We asked whether the classification of nouns by shape affects the degree to which Chinese speakers rely on shape when classifying objects. Three experiments examined the degree to which Chinese- and English-speaking adults rely on shape versus taxonomic or functional similarity in a classification task. Across all three experiments, Chinese speakers made significantly more shape choices than English speakers though they both mostly classified objects on the basis of taxonomic or functional similarity. Reliance on shape by speakers of Chinese was correlated with amount of exposure to Chinese. The results offer evidence in support of the idea that language influences categorization, or a weak form of the Whorf Hypothesis. The results also call into question the widely-held belief that speakers of all classifier languages pay less attention to shape in classification.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of East Asian Linguistics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2009


  • Categorization
  • Classifiers
  • Linguistic relativity
  • Mass noun hypothesis


Dive into the research topics of 'Classifier effects on human categorization: The role of shape classifiers in Mandarin Chinese'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this