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What drives humans around the world to converge in certain ways in their naming while diverging dramatically in others? We studied how naming patterns are constrained by investigating whether labeling of human locomotion reflects the biomechanical discontinuity between walking and running gaits. Similarity judgments of a student locomoting on a treadmill at different slopes and speeds revealed perception of this discontinuity. Naming judgments of the same clips by speakers of English, Japanese, Spanish, and Dutch showed lexical distinctions between walking and running consistent with the perceived discontinuity. Typicality judgments showed that major gait terms of the four languages share goodness-of-example gradients. These data demonstrate that naming reflects the biomechanical discontinuity between walking and running and that shared elements of naming can arise from correlations among stimulus properties that are dynamic and fleeting. The results support the proposal that converging naming patterns reflect structure in the world, not only acts of construction by observers. Copyright © 2008 Association for Psychological Science.

Original publication




Journal article


Psychological Science

Publication Date





232 - 240