Second language and cognition: Conceptual categorization of count/mass nouns in english with Japanese university students

Yuko Yamashita, David Hirsh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This paper reports on a study designed to explore the conceptual basis of count/mass noun distinction with Japanese students. It focuses on the perceptual cues used to match pictures with count or mass noun phrases, when there is the effect of distance, size, and clarity between pairs of pictures. The study tests the cognitive individuation hypothesis in which count nouns are conceptualized as individuated things whereas mass nouns are conceptualized as non-individuated things in the mind of speakers. Participants in this study were 103 students from a university in Japan. They completed picture tasks consisting of 22 pairs of novel pictures with a phrase indicating a novel count or mass noun. The results indicate that participants relied primarily on the perceptual cue of distance and clarity to match pictures with count or mass noun phrases. They made the majority of choices consistent with the cognitive individuation hypothesis, when there were two effects (size and distance, or distance and clarity). The study provides insights into effective ways to enhance Japanese speakers' application of conceptual knowledge when making count/mass noun distinction in English and potentially informs future studies in second language and cognition and EFL pedagogy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)362-389
Number of pages28
JournalAsian EFL Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2011 Jun 1



  • Aggregates
  • Cognitive Individuation Hypothesis
  • Count/Mass Noun Categorization
  • Japanese EFL Users
  • Perceptibility

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language

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