Language and Cognition DOI:10.1017/langcog.2023.3

Breaking the ice in a conversation: abstract words prompt dialogs more easily than concrete ones

Abstract domains of knowledge may have social origins. However, whether abstract concepts (ACs) may also differentially affect communicative interaction and conversation has not been explored. Here, we studied ACs’ communicative functions by collecting in an Italian and an English sample, ratings for concrete concept (CC) and ACs related to three main dimensions: communicative/pragmatic [i.e., Openness to Negotiation (ON), Easiness to Start a Conversation (ESC)], semantic/metacognitive [i.e., Social Metacognition (SM) – perceived need of others, Word Confidence (WC), Contextual Availability (CA)], and emotional–experiential (i.e., Pleasantness, Valence, Familiarity). Overall, Italian participants judged it was easier to start a conversation, the more pleasant, familiar, and positively valenced were rated the concepts. Crucially, at lower values of the emotional–experiential component (i.e., Familiarity in the Italian sample, also Pleasantness and Valence in an English sample), there was an advantage of ACs over CCs in the ESC. Moreover, in the Italian sample, participants rated ACs higher on SM, ON, and lower on WC and CA. Notably, in both the Italian and English sample, ACs with higher ratings on the ESC dimension belonged to the Self-Sociality subcluster. The results offer new insights into the pragmatic aspects linked to ACs’ use.

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