24.2109, Review: Cognitive Science; Semantics; Syntax; Typology: Kopecka & Narasimhan (2012)

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Subject: 24.2109, Review: Cognitive Science; Semantics; Syntax; Typology: Kopecka & Narasimhan (2012)

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Date: Sat, 18 May 2013 22:28:37
From: Lilián Guerrero [lilianguerrero at yahoo.com]
Subject: Events of Putting and Taking

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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-2665.html

EDITOR: Anetta  Kopecka
EDITOR: Bhuvana  Narasimhan
TITLE: Events of Putting and Taking
SUBTITLE: A crosslinguistic perspective
SERIES TITLE: Typological Studies in Language 100
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Lilián Guerrero, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México


This book appears in John Benjamins Publishing Company’s well-respected
‘Typological Studies in Language’ series. As with other titles in this series,
the overall goal is to offer a comprehensive study of what is at the forefront
of the topic under investigation. This volume stands as the first systematic
exploration of semantic categorization of placement and removal events. The
book is divided into a preface, an introductory chapter and sixteen papers
organized into two sections. The first section, “Lexical Semantics”, examines
whether, how, and to what extent speakers of different languages agree on how
to distinguish between ‘put’ and ‘take’ events of different kinds. The second
section, “(A)symmetries in the encoding placements vs. removal events”,
explores the possible asymmetries in the linguistic encoding of goal-oriented
verbs (e.g. ‘put’) versus source-oriented verbs (e.g. ‘take’).  The
contributions to this volume explore one or more of these themes on the basis
of findings from a large-scale comparative study of how a standardized set of
stimuli (‘Put and Take’, Bowerman et al. 2004) is encoded by speakers of
nineteen areally, genetically, and typologically diverse languages.

In the preface, Stephen C. Levinson, one of the pioneers of semantic typology,
establishes the importance of this volume for the structure of semantic fields
across unrelated (and unrepresented) languages. The study of semantic concepts
and linguistic categories based on cross-cultural variation began in the 1960s
within the domain of color terms and kinship categories. Nonetheless, it took
almost 30 years to extend the study to other, more complex semantic domains,
e.g., the expression of topological relations and posture verbs (Levinson
2003; Levinson & Wilkins 2006; Ameka & Levinson 2007), the ‘cutting and
breaking’ opposition (Majid & Bowerman 2007), the work by Newman on ‘giving’
(1998), ‘sitting, standing and lying’ (2002), and ‘eating and drinking’ events
(2009), and the most recent study on reciprocals (Majid et al. 2011; Evans et
al, 2011), among other topics. In this book, the semantic domain of interest
is that of the encoding of reaching and placing events. The book comes
directly from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, of which the
Language & Cognition Department has played a central role, not only in the
study of language and cognition, but also in the development of stimuli and
experimental methods used in semantic fields.

In the introductory chapter, “Putting and taking events. A cross-linguistic
perspective”, Bhuvana Narasimhan, Anetta Kopecka, Melissa Bowerman, Marianne
Gullberg and Asifa Mijid set up the complexity of the topic by first saying
that the conceptualization of everyday experiences, such as putting things in
places and removing them from places, poses profound intellectual challenges,
especially for cross-linguistic comparison. Recent studies have shown that for
some languages, it is essential to use position verbs that indicate how an
object (i.e. ‘Figure’) is placed with regards to another object (i.e. ‘Ground,
Landmark’), e.g., lying, standing, sitting. Thus, verbs encoding putting and
taking an object under agentive control can be expected to respect many of
these language-specific distinctions. To facilitate comparative analysis, the
following terminology is used: placement (or ‘putting’) events are events in
which an agent causes an object to move to a location; removal (or ‘taking’)
events are events in which an agent causes an object to move away from a
location; the ‘agent’ is the entity causing the motion; the ‘figure’ is the
object that is caused to move; the ‘ground’ is the location with respect to
which it moves; and the ‘path’ is the trajectory along which the object moves
(e.g. into, onto, out of). This section also introduces the methodologies used
to collect data in the respective field languages (e.g. the stimuli, the
procedure, and the challenges involved in employing these elicitation
techniques), and advances the major findings concerning three themes: (a)
syntax-semantic mapping of core elements; (b) lexical semantics; and (c)
asymmetries in the encoding of goal-oriented events vs. source-oriented

Each contribution to this volume begins with a brief introduction to the
lexico-grammatical device the language under discussion provides for the
expression of placement and removal events (e.g. compound verbs, verb
particles, serial verb constructions, adpositional phrases, etc.), and
discusses the syntax-semantics mapping(s) in the language; how ‘putting and
taking’ information is typically distributed across different utterance
constituents. Later, the particular papers explore one or both of the two
specific themes; lexical semantics or asymmetries in the encoding of placement
vs. removal events.

The first section begins with “The linguistic encoding of placement and
removal events in Jahai”, an Austro-Asiatic (Malay Peninsula) language. Niclas
Burenhult provides evidence of variation in how semantic roles are mapped onto
syntactic constituents; in most situation types, Agent, Figure and Ground
associate with particular NPs, but some events are described with semantically
specialized verbs and /or linguistic descriptions, e.g., events of placement
of the Agent’s own body part.

In “She from bookshelf take-descend-come-the box”, Jidong Chen shows that the
majority of placement verbs in Mandarin (Sino-Tibetan) are directional verb
compounds, taking two or three verbs in a fixed order: the first conveys
object manipulation; and the second and third indicate the path of motion,
including deixis. However, this highly productive process also shows certain
constraints based on the goal of the placement (e.g. dressing verbs),
figure-ground spatial relations (e.g. tight-fitting), as well as particular
manner, intention and degrees of the Agent’s control situations.

In Penelope Brown’s contribution, “To ‘put’ or to ‘take’?”, the discussion
focuses on verbs and other spatial vocabulary used for describing events of
‘putting and taking’ in Tzeltal (Mayan). As happens with locative
descriptions, there are many different verbs for encoding placement and
removal in Tzeltal, and verb choice is largely determined by the shape,
orientation, and resulting disposition of the figure and ground objects.
Additionally, goal-oriented verbs are lexically more finely distinguished in
comparison with source-oriented verbs.
“The encoding of placement and removal events in ǂÁkhoe Haillom (Khoisan)” is
the fourth contribution to this section. Christian J. Rapold provides evidence
for a clear tendency to make detailed semantic distinctions in placement
verbs, as opposed to semantically more general removal verbs; the former
exhibit finer distinctions based on the identity or shape of the Figure
moving, and its final position.

“The semantics of placement and removal predicates in Moroccan Arabic”, by
Nadi Nouaouri, offers valuable observations concerning the distinction between
accidental vs. deliberate events, on one hand, and a rich lexical-semantic
distinction in goal-oriented predicates directed to factors such as
attachment, control, and volition, on the other. In contrast, the posture of
the Figure (e.g. sitting, standing, lying) is typically not specified in the
linguistic descriptions of ‘putting and taking’ in Moroccan Arabic.

Iraide Ibarretxe-Antuñano, in “Placement and removal events in Basque and
Spanish”, offers an interesting comparison of lexicalization and
conceptualization facts among these two unrelated but in-contact languages. In
addition to the expected influence of verb-framed lexicalization patterns, in
both languages, the degree of force, causality and intentionality in
conceptual elements proves to be crucial to the conceptualization of ‘putting
and taking’.

The subsequent chapter, by Raphael Berthele, “On the use of Put verbs in
multilingual speakers of Romansh”, compares the lexical semantics of Romansh
(where there is a fairly general verb meaning ‘to put’) and German (where
different positional verbs are used). Whereas there are almost no traces of
German in the Romansh linguistic description of ‘putting and taking’ from
German-Romansh bilinguals, it seems that their production of German yields
uses of the verbs that differ from the typical German system, though their
distribution may vary.

Marianne Gullberg and Niclas Burenhult, in “Probing the linguistic encoding of
placement and removal events in Swedish”, provide evidence for three semantic
patterns related to the nature of the Figure-Ground relationship based on
whether or not: the Ground is represented by an Agent’s body part; the Figure
is contained within the Ground; and the Figure is supported by the Ground.  As
a satellite-framed language type, Swedish uses particles to encode path.
Interestingly, removal descriptions are overall more likely to co-occur with
those particles than verbs in placement descriptions.
In “The semantic role of agentive control in Hungarian placement events”,
Attila Andics claims that general verb choices cannot be explained in terms of
spatial relations (e.g. containment and support) or spatial relation changes
(e.g. joining and separation). On the contrary, lexical distinctions in
Hungarian can be better described in terms of agentive control settings. Up to
five major verb types are distinguished, including: ‘take’, ‘put’, ‘give’,
‘pout’, ‘throw’ and ‘make fall’.

In the next chapter, ‘Putting and taking in Tamil and Hindi’, Bhuvana
Narasimhan characterizes the meanings and patterns of use of general or
‘light’ verbs to describe placement and removal events in Hindi
(Indo-European) and Tamil (Dravidian). In these two unrelated but in-contact
languages, there are at least two general verbs in the placement domain; Hindi
also has two general source-oriented event verbs, while Tamil employs only one
‘supergeneral’ removal verb. The distribution of the two general ‘putting’
verbs seems to be determined, among other factors, by the nature of the

The second part of the book focuses on the distribution of goal-oriented and
source-oriented events, e.g., predicates, adpositions, constructions, and so
on. The asymmetry describing placement and removal verbs is the topic of the
first two chapters. First, Alice Gaby, in “The Thaayorre lexicon of putting
and taking”, argues that ‘putting and taking’ verbs can be subcategorized in
Kuuk Thaayorree (Pama-Nyungan) according to whether they may combine with an
NP encoding a goal, an NP encoding a source, or both. Interestingly, not only
are goal-oriented verbs the most frequent combination in the sample, but they
also encode more information regarding the nature of the event.

Second, Miyuki Ishibashi, in “The expression of ‘putting’ and ‘taking’ events
in Japanese”, claims that the expression of source is less frequent than the
expression of the goal in Japanese, but, if source is expressed, then it is
morpho-syntactically more complex than goal. This suggests that removal events
are more complex than placement events in their construal.

Stephen  Levinson and Penelope Brown, in “Put and take in Yélȋ Dnye, the
Papuan language of Rossel Island”, provide evidence for a very differently
situation. In Yélȋ Dnye, ‘put and take’ events are treated symmetrically,
i.e., there are as many distinctions in ‘taking’ as there are in ‘putting’
verbs. These predicates reflect the causative version of positional verbs that
reflect a specific shape and canonical orientation of physical objects.

In “Take it up, down, and away”, Loretta O’Connor offers a structural and
semantic analysis of the expression of caused motion in Lowland Chontal of
Oaxaca. Here, ‘putting and taking’ are most often expressed with two-part
compound stem predicates. The initial element gives details on the Figure, the
Figure-Ground configuration, or the manner of motion, while the second element
depicts the direction of motion (e.g. up, down, across, away) or the
topological relation of the Figure with respect to the Ground. In the sample,
there are more lexical verb types used to describe placement than removal and
more lexical mentions of the Figure in removal events, but more lexical
mentions of the Ground in placement event descriptions.

In the subsequent contribution, “Semantic granularity of placement and removal
expressions in Polish”, Anetta Kopecka investigates lexical and grammatical
devices used in the expression of placement and removal events in Polish in
order to examine whether goal-oriented events are described in a more
fine-grained way than source-oriented events. The data supports the hypothesis
in general but also shows that the asymmetry between the two events is
subtler, since speakers pay close attention to both sources and goals and
encode them with comparable frequency in expressions of removal and placement.

The last paper in this section, “How to put and take in Kalasha”, by Jan
Heegård Petersen, offers an interesting discussion about a symmetrical
relationship between lexical items encoding ‘placement on’ and ‘removal from’
a supporting surface, but a lexical asymmetry expressing ‘placement in’ and
‘removal from’ an enclosure. In this Indo-Aryan language, ‘take’ verbs display
a larger degree of linguistic elaboration of the Figure-Ground relation and
the type of caused motion than ‘put’ verbs.


This volume offers a significant contribution to cross-linguistic studies
within the field of semantic typology, and provides new insights to studies on
causation, the typology of motion events, and the growing body of literature
on posture and locative descriptions.

Previous cross-linguistic studies within the semantic domain have focused on
‘basic’ lexical items used to encode particular concepts. Within the domain of
‘cutting and breaking’, for example, it is said that languages categorize
events into different numbers of groups, and posit category boundaries in
different places (e.g. based on the locus of separation in the acted-on
object, the manner of cutting, and so on), but these differences are outlined
within a shared semantic space defined in terms of a few cross-linguistic
dimensions of contrast (Majid, Boster & Bowerman 2008). Other studies have
recognized that some semantic notions can also be distributed across elements
in phrase- and clause-level constructions, in addition to the lexical content
of verbs. Now, the linguistic encoding of placement and removal events may
compromise either of the two patterns of conflation and distribution of
semantic elements.

One of the major assessments of this volume is the fact that, by controlling
the data under comparison using standardized stimuli, it is possible to
explore a variety of potential semantic distinctions encoding ‘putting and
taking’ events among unrelated languages: (a) the nature of the Figure (e.g.
rigid vs. flexible); body part of the agent vs. separate object (granular vs.
liquid vs. solid; size, shape, and so on); (b) the nature of the Ground:
animate vs. inanimate, body part of the Agent vs. separate location (floor vs.
higher levels, container vs. supporting surface); (c) the spatial relation
between Figure and Ground: containment vs. support; the two tightly or loosely
fitted to each other; Figure vertically vs. horizontally oriented with respect
to Ground; (d) types of instruments; (e) manner (e.g. dropping, throwing,
pouring, placing), which varies the agentive control over the Figure: whether
control is retained until the Figure reaches its goal vs. relinquished before
the Figure completes its motion.

Among the major findings, it is reported that the crosslinguistic patterns of
conflation and the distribution of semantic elements involving ‘putting and
taking’ events are complex enough that they cannot be explained in terms of a
dichotomy, e.g., ‘verb-framed’ and ‘satellite-framed’ language types. Although
there is considerable variation in the extension patterns used to describe
various kinds of placement and removal events, there are also many
commonalities among the types of semantic distinctions that recur across
languages. With respect to asymmetries in the encoding of goal-oriented vs.
source-oriented events, most articles provide evidence for a more precise
description involving placement (i.e. goal-oriented) versus removal (i.e.
source-oriented) predicates, though the latter may involve a more complex
structure when expressed.

In sum, this volume contains an extensive yet careful examination of
cross-linguistic data, as well as insightful discussions regarding the
encoding used when placing objects in a standing or lying position, or
removing said objects from these topological relations. All the papers are
written by specialists on the respective languages using data they themselves
gathered for the purpose of this investigation. The authors handle a variety
of phenomena within the domains of motion and locative descriptions with
extraordinary uniformity; the sixteen contributions are clearly organized,
rigorously edited and very readable. In terms of readership, the book will be
of interest to those seeking a comprehensive study of locative descriptions
brought about by an external agent, particularly those concerned with
language, cognition and language variation.


Bowerman, M., M. Gullberg, A. Majid, and B. Narasimhan. 2004. Put project: The
crosslinguistic encoding of placement events. In Field Manual, Vol 9, A. Majid
(ed), 10-18. Nijmegen: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics.

Ameka, F.K. and S. C. Levinson (eds). 2007. The typology and semantics of
locative predication: postural, positional and other beasts. Special Issue of
Linguistics 45. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Evans, N. A. Gaby, S. Levinson, A. Majid (eds). 2011. Reciprocals and semantic
typology [Studies in Typological Linguistics 98]. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Levinson, S. C., S. Meira, and the L&C Group. 2003. ‘Natural concepts’ in the
spatial topological domain - Adpositional meanings in crosslinguistic
perspective: an exercise in semantic typology. Language 79(3): 485-516.

Levinson, S. C. and D. Wilkins (eds). 2006. Grammars of space. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.

Majid, A. and M. Bowerman. 2007. Cutting and breaking events: A
cross-linguistic perspective. Special issue of Cognitive Linguistics 18(2).

Majid. A. N. Evans, A. Gaby, and S. Levinson. 2011. The grammar of exchange: A
comparative study of reciprocal constructions across languages. Frontiers in
Cultural Psychology 2 (34), 1-15.

Newman, J. (ed). 2009. The Linguistics of Eating and Drinking. [Studies in
Typological Linguistics 84]. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Newman, J. (ed). 2002. The Linguistics of Sitting, Standing, and Lying.
[Studies in Typological Linguistics 51]. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John

Newman, J. (ed). 1998. The Linguistics of Giving. [Studies in Typological
Linguistics 36]. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.


Lilián Guerrero has a Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University at Buffalo. She
is a full-time researcher at the Seminar of Indigenous Languages in the
Instituto de Investigaciones Filologicas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de
México (UNAM). Her main academic interests have been related to the syntax and
semantics of Uto-Aztecan languages spoken in Northwest of Mexico, in
particular the Yaqui language. She is currently engaged in the study of
certain properties of argument structure in simple and complex constructions,
including the linguistic description of locative situations.

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