24.2044, Review: Cognitive Science; Psycholinguistics: Dimitrova-Vulchanova & Van der Zee (2012)

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Subject: 24.2044, Review: Cognitive Science; Psycholinguistics: Dimitrova-Vulchanova & Van der Zee (2012)

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Date: Tue, 14 May 2013 11:54:59
From: Agnieszka Knas [a.knas at qmul.ac.uk]
Subject: Motion Encoding in Language and Space

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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-5027.html

EDITOR: Mila  Dimitrova-Vulchanova
EDITOR: Emile  van der Zee
TITLE: Motion Encoding in Language and Space
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
YEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Agnieszka Knas, Queen Mary, University of London


This volume, edited by Mila Dimitrova-Vulchanova and Emile van der Zee, is the sixth
volume in the Oxford University Press ‘Explorations in Language and Space’
series (ed. Emile van der Zee). It comprises 11 chapters which explore the
question of motion encoding in language, bringing together research in a range
of disciplines including linguistics, computer science, and psychology.
Following the introductory Chapter 1 (“Introduction”), all the remaining
chapters are divided into two parts. Part I (“Motion encoding across
languages: multiple methods and applications”) consists of five chapters which
consider the parameters at play in motion encoding through studies on
Estonian, English, Norwegian, Bulgarian, Italian, German, Russian, Persian,
and Tamil. Part II (“Granularity”) includes five chapters which focus on the
role of levels of spatial resolution, or granularity, in encoding motion in

In the introduction to the volume, the editors set the scene for the remaining
chapters by presenting two reasons for investigating motion encoding in
language. Firstly, they show that detecting and identifying motion plays an
important part in human communication and life, impacting our  anticipation of
actions and navigation. Secondly, they highlight the significance of motion-
and space-encoding for cognitive and linguistic functioning. The scope of the
volume is set against existing research on motion encoding in spatial
language, i.e., those parts of natural language that describe perceived space.
Van der Zee and Dimitrova-Vulchanova, recognising that the thematic organisation of
chapters in edited volumes may mean that some general issues remain
unrepresented, define the binding theme for the chapters that follow. This
recurrent theme consists of the parameters and features determining the
possibilities of motion-encoding and the question of ways in which linguistic
variation and analysis can be approached. They point to the variety of themes
and methodologies covered in the volume and offer a snapshot of the chapters
which follow.

Part I begins with a chapter titled ''Distinctions in the linguistic encoding
of motion: evidence from a free naming task'' (Chapter 2), in which Mila
Dimitrova-Vulchanova, Liliana Martinez, and Valentin Vulchanov present results of a free
naming experiment aimed at establishing how motion is encoded in five
languages: Bulgarian, Russian, English, Norwegian, and Italian. The authors
analyse a number of conceptual features (e.g. medium, phase, velocity,
posture, method of propulsion, species, path orientation, and figure
orientation) which seem relevant for the linguistic categorisation of
biological motion, with the main focus being its 'manner'. The results are
presented in the form of dendrograms for each language and show, in line with
the findings of Malt et al. (2010) and Wolff and Malt (2010), that the
cross-linguistic encoding of motion is limited by the physical properties of
the world and differs between the analysed languages with respect to the
pervasiveness and consistency of features.

In Chapter 3 (“The encoding of motion events in Estonian”), Renate Pajusalu,
Neeme Kahusk, Heili Orav, Ann Veismann, Kadri Vider, and Haldur Õim present a
study whose aim is to establish how motion events are encoded in Estonian
based on a sub-corpus of 1,168 sentences extracted from the Word
Disambiguation corpus of Estonian. The chapter focuses on the use of phrases
other than the verbal phrase itself, i.e., noun phrases (NP), prepositional
phrases (PP), and adverbial phrases (AdvP), and includes a brief consideration
of verb phrases. After an overview of Estonian verbs of motion, the chapter
discusses the categories of SOURCE, GOAL, ROUTE, and LOCATION and their
encoding in Estonian (the highly frequent verb 'käima' (to go to and from) is
discussed in a separate section). The authors find that these categories are
important in encoding motion in satellite-based languages (Talmy 2000) such as

Yury Lander, Timur Maisak, and Ekaterina Rakhilina, in Chapter 4 (“Verbs of
aquamotion: semantic domains and lexical systems”), discuss research presented
earlier at a few conferences and workshops concerned with cross-linguistic
comparisons of lexicons within a single semantic field, that of the verbs of
aquamotion, i.e., expressions of motion/being in a liquid medium (p. 68). The
distinction proposed in the chapter is that between the semantic domains of
SWIMMING, SAILING, DRIFTING, and FLOATING, which are said to be present in
most of the 50 analysed languages, and thus assumed to be universal. The
authors find that languages can be divided into three types (i.e. middle,
rich, and poor) based on their type of aquamotion system.

Using participant instructions as data, Andi Winterboer, Thora Tenbrink, and
Reinhard Moratz discuss the use of prepositions, such as 'to the left' and 'in
front of', as directional instructions to a robot in Chapter 5 (“Spatial
directionals for robot navigation”). They observe that respondents
spontaneously use more directionals and motion verbs such as 'go' (e.g. go
left), rather than goal-based descriptions (e.g. go to the black box). The
authors also report on the improved efficiency of their direction-based
instructions after introducing some basic changes to the robot's lexicon and
its motion possibilities.

In Chapter 6 (“The role of structure and function in the conceptualization of
direction”), Alexander Klippel, Thora Tenbrink, and Daniel R. Montello analyse
verbal route directions in English in order to determine which aspects of
spatial situation are verbalised at decision points in city street networks,
depending on the structure of a decision point (e.g. an intersection), the
action itself (e.g. a change of direction), and the availability of
disambiguating features, such as landmarks. The data were coded with respect
to seven conceptual categories: main direction concept (the primary direction
change indicated), use of verbs, redundancy (the presence of more than one
description in relation to a single decision point), scene (when competing
alternative directions are described), reference to structure (of an
intersection), ordering concepts (e.g. distinguishing the intended route
segment from competing branches), and landmark use (to either help identify
the correct decision point or confirm that correct identification took place).
Based on this experiment and their general experience studying route
directions, the authors propose a number of general categories to characterise
strategies users resort to in direction-giving.

Part II of the volume is concerned with the role of granularity and scale in
motion encoding in language. In Chapter 7 (“Granularity in taxonomy, time, and
space”), Jeffrey M. Zacks and Barbara Tversky provide a comprehensive overview
of the concept of granularity (i.e. spatial scale) and relate it to language.
They argue that cognitive processing is dependent on the level of taxonomy
adopted by communicators, e.g., referring to the same object as 'a recliner',
'a chair', or 'a piece of furniture' evokes different sets of contrasting
objects. The authors also discuss mental representations created when dealing
with large-scale and small-scale spaces and situations in which people are
likely to adopt 'inside' and 'outside' perspectives of reasoning.

In Chapter 8 (“Granularity in the cross-linguistic encoding of motion and
location”), based on the analysis of descriptions of motion into contained
spaces, Miriam van Staden and Bhuvana Narasimhan describe cross-linguistic
similarities and differences in event boundary placement at the clause level.
Granularity is dealt with from three perspectives: with regard to the
placement of event boundaries, event classification, and the level of detail
provided. Based on data from a number of different languages (i.e. English,
Dutch, Hindi, Tidore, Tzeltal, Kalam, and Kilivila), the authors suggest that
lexis, grammar, and typical discourse preferences influence the level of
specificity in encoding motion and location in the analysed languages. They
argue that although the ability to segment events is inherent to speakers of
“more or less” (p. 134) all languages, there is substantial variety in the
level of granularity in which events are described between languages.

The use of the spatial-temporal prepositions 'before' and 'after' to encode
the location of one stationary object with respect to another within a motion
event context constitutes the focus of Mark Tutton's chapter (Chapter 9,
“Granularity, space, and motion-framed location”). The analysis is based on
two understandings of granularity: as the amount of locative information
carried by the prepositions under investigation and as the scalar division of
space. He finds that motion-framed locative prepositions (e.g. 'before' and
'after') encode the spatial scene differently to static locative prepositions
(e.g. 'in front of' and 'behind'). Finally, he discusses factors influencing
these phenomena, recognising the implications they have for 'thinking for
speaking', i.e. that speakers must consider motion before using language.

Hedda A. Schmidtke (Chapter 10, “Path and place: the lexical specification of
granular compatibility”) proposes formal tools for the representation of
granularity-dependent concepts, such as 'point-like' and 'proximity', through
the analysis of the German constructions 'an...vorbei' ('past') and
'an...entlang' ('along'). The analysis shows that, while both constructions
characterise the intermediate course of path, the use of 'entlang' requires a
reference object (Ground) that is extended, whereas the use of 'vorbei' is
compatible with an atomic, or point-like, referent. Schmidtke shows that her
model can be used to explain the unacceptability of certain expressions in

Urpo Nikanne and Emile van der Zee's research in Chapter 11 (“The lexical
representations of path curvature in motion expressions: a three-way path
curvature distinction”) analyses the different ways in which path curvature is
expressed in Finnish and Dutch motion verbs. They propose that such encoding
can represent curvature at three levels: no reference to the shape of a path
in their lexical semantics (GL0 verbs, e.g., mennä 'to go'); focus on the
overall shape of the path (GL1 verbs, e.g., kaartaa 'to go along a curved
path'); or focus on the fine-grained aspects of a path of motion (GL2, e.g.,
mutkitella 'to zigzag'). The authors find that path curvature can also be
encoded in special constructions, such as NPs and PPs, or derived from certain
Manner of Motion (MoM) verbs.

The volume also contains biographical information of all the contributors as
well as a list of abbreviations and an index of subjects.


The reviewed volume contains chapters based on ongoing empirical research by a
group of researchers specialising in a range of disciplines including
linguistics, psychology, computer science, language technology, geography, and
engineering. Chapters within this volume, through the employment of diverse
methodologies, explore issues arising from the study of motion-encoding in
spatial language in two wider areas: encoding of motion across languages and
the issue of granularity. The volume is characterised by a good level of
internal coherence and logical structure in presenting such a wide variety of
topics and methods.

This diversity, however, presupposes different levels of assumed knowledge
between chapters. Some, e.g., Chapter 6 (“The role of structure and function
in the conceptualization of direction”) and Chapter 7 (“Granularity in
taxonomy, time, and space”), are suitable for readers with any level of
familiarity with the topic and domain, whereas others, e.g., Chapter 10 (“Path
and place: the lexical specification of granular compatibility”), assume a
certain level of previous knowledge of semantics. A reader new to linguistics
wishing to consult the Abbreviations section will also encounter some
difficulties. Although the list does include explanations of most of the
abbreviations used in the chapters, there are some that have not been included
in the list or explained anywhere in the relevant chapters, e.g., 'PSS' and
'COM' on p. 55. This is linked to a consistency issue.

The Index is also disappointingly concise and the choice of phrases listed in
it is not sufficiently comprehensive or logical. For example, 'gesture' is
featured in the index, even though there are only three brief mentions in the
book, whereas 'curve' or 'curvature' are not, in spite of all of Chapter 11
being devoted to them. It would also be helpful if the numbers of the most
informative pages for each reference term were indicated, e.g., bolded.
Additionally, although most terms in the Index are spelt using lower case,
some seem to be presented with random capitalisation,  e.g., 'Gesture' or
'Production' are capitalised for no apparent reason.

“Motion Encoding in Language and Space” continues the series ‘Explorations in
Language and Space’ with another clearly written and rigorously investigated
volume which broadens our understanding of the interrelationships between
motion, space, and language. The few editorial problems do not impact the
general value of the volume, which presents new research that tackles a wide
range of issues and will constitute a valuable resource for scholars already
involved in research into language and space.


Malt, B. and Wolff, P. (eds). 2010. Words and the Mind. How Words Capture
Human Experience. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Malt, B., Gennari, S., and Imai, M. 2010. Lexicalization Patterns and the
World-to-Word Mapping. In: B. Malt and P. Wolff (eds) 2010. pp. 29-57.

Talmy, L. 2000. Toward a Cognitive Semantics, Vol. I & II. Cambridge, MA: MIT


Agnieszka Knaś is a doctoral candidate at the Department of Linguistics, Queen
Mary, University of London, United Kingdom. Her research interests include
multimodality and embedded multimodality, electronically mediated
communication, space and place construction in discourse, and co-presence in a
joint communicative space. Her PhD research focuses on physical
self-presentation and self-positioning in the discourse of text-messages.

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