Lying, Cheating, and Stealing: A Study of Categorical Misdeeds

Document Type


Publication Date


Department 1

Africana Studies


The goal of this paper is to provide evidence that lie, steal, and cheat are the only concepts that share membership in a specialized semantic category which has a specific set of prototypical features that separates them from other kinds of misdeeds. Findings show that lie, cheat, and steal can be reduced to similar weighted semantic features and that in testing the relevance of these primitives, we find experimental results that reveal that lie, cheat, and steal have parallel prototype effects establishing the same kinds of gradient membership in all three concepts. It is this scalar membership that leads to the mismatch between speakers’ definitions of the concepts and their application of the categories to actual examples of lying, cheating, and stealing. The second purpose of this study is the development of category models that take into account the gradient membership and the variability of concept use as well as culturally inspired ideas about what lying, cheating, and stealing entail. The ultimate goal of this project is to discover the greater implications category structures by constructing a mega-model that only includes the concepts lying, cheating, and stealing and accounts for their exclusive membership in a larger concept field.


Original version is available from the publisher at: http://www.journals.elsevier.com/journal-of-pragmatics/



This item is not available in The Cupola.