25.3039, Review: Cognitive Science; Historical Ling; Linguistic Theories; Semantics; Typology: Goschler & Stefanowitsch (2013)

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Subject: 25.3039, Review: Cognitive Science; Historical Ling; Linguistic Theories; Semantics; Typology: Goschler & Stefanowitsch (2013)

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Date: Thu, 24 Jul 2014 13:34:39
From: Konrad Szczesniak [konrad.szczesniak at us.edu.pl]
Subject: Variation and Change in the Encoding of Motion Events

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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/24/24-4939.html

EDITOR: Juliana  Goschler
EDITOR: Anatol  Stefanowitsch
TITLE: Variation and Change in the Encoding of Motion Events
SERIES TITLE: Human Cognitive Processing 41
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2013

REVIEWER: Konrad Szczesniak, University of Silesia


Edited by Juliana Goschler and Anatol Stefanowitsch, “Variation and Change in
the Encoding of Motion Events” is a volume with a clear agenda. One common
goal of this collection of studies is to demonstrate the continuum nature of
the binary distinction between satellite-framed and verb-framed modes of
expression of motion proposed by Talmy (2000a) (2000b). The authors in the
volume argue that it is too simple and untenable to divide languages into
those that express path in the verb (enter the room) and those that express
manner in the verb and path outside it (hop into the room). As Kopecka notes,
Talmy’s division, “although clearly fruitful, nevertheless proved too
simplistic to account for the typological complexity of individual languages.”
(p. 164) Thus, the point being made is that in its traditional form, Talmy’s
division may be another facile dichotomy; for maximum accuracy, it should be
carefully qualified and shown to exhibit considerable variation. This
objective is pursued coherently in two ways, namely through analysis of
examples of variation within the two types of languages, and through tracing
diachronic change as languages cross the division between the types over time.
This approach is certainly reasonable and compelling: the cases of diachronic
change offered here are only possible if the distinction is a continuum; no
seismic changes between satellite-framed and verb-framed style would be
possible overnight as “one-fell-swoop” transformations.

The volume is a fascinating collection of studies focusing on how Talmy’s
typology of motion events plays out in languages when looked at in detail,
based on large numbers of actual uses of motion event phrases. Berthele
justifies this approach by pointing out that “[t]he typological status of a
particular language is to be determined empirically, based on corpora, and not
via introspection or via genealogical inheritance.” (p. 58) The contributions
in the volume provide ample concrete data to evaluate and revise our thinking
about how languages capture motion. Each chapter offers a study of uses
reflecting the way motion is encoded in languages chosen by the authors;
additionally the authors include a distillation of their views and findings
accumulated over years of research on the expression of motion in language.


Filipocić shows that in Serbo-Croatian, a satellite-framed language, the
conflation of manner and directionality is constrained by aspect and
morphosyntax. Unlike in English, where seemingly any manner verb can be used
with a path satellite, Serbo-Croatian resists uses of verbs such as skakutati
(‘skip’) in patterns like “She was skipping into the house”, because
morphological blocking makes it impossible to adjust the verb’s aspect to the
boundary-crossing scenario found in such motion descriptions. In other words,
this and other Slavic languages are not fully satellite-framed languages.
Hijazo-Gascón and Ibarretxe-Antuñano make similar qualifications, albeit about
languages found on the other extreme of the continuum. Here too, the main
finding is that textbook examples of verb-framed languages--Spanish, French
and Italian--are not fully verb-framed languages after all. They have “Manner
verb+adverb structures”. The authors conclude that the three Romance languages
“are verb-framed languages, but they show intratypological variation with
regard to the semantic component of Path” (p.50). Similarly, Berthele looks at
the production by speakers of French and a number of contact varieties of
German and Romansch, and uses a wealth of statistical data to demonstrate that
languages do not differ from each other in a simple binary fashion.  Instead,
satellite-framed German exhibits signs of verb-framed behavior, while speakers
of the Romance verb-framed counterparts French and Romansch allow elements
typical of satellite-framed languages such as relatively high numbers of
manner verbs with path descriptions. Wälchli and Sölling take a more panoramic
look at motion expression across a wide range of languages (although they do
not describe each one in detail in their chapter, they have compared 117
languages). They also conclude that there are few universal properties.
Compounding the impression of cross-linguistic variation is the observation
that “[n]o conclusive evidence for underlying global semantic features such as
path was found.” (p.109) They go on to venture that many features in motion
typology are “cross-linguistic comparative concepts designed by typologists
and not intrinsic in language structure.” (p.110) The next two chapters look
at how learners of satellite-framed languages express motion in these target
languages. Goschler studies Turkish learners of German, while Jensen and
Cadierno look at Turkish and German learners of Danish. Perhaps the most
important finding in both studies is that when the mother tongue and the
target language are typologically different, learners do not use patterns of
motion expression typical of the target language. That is, both studies
converge on the conclusion that speakers of Turkish (verb-framed) do not use
manner verbs in German or Danish (both satellite-framed) in proportions
comparable the production by German or Danish speakers.

Then in the second part of the volume, the authors of four chapters look at
how languages changed their modes of motion expression over centuries. Kopecka
traces diachronic changes in the development from Old to Modern French, and
shows how French lost its focus on Path, thus becoming more of a verb-framed
language. On the other hand, Nikitina shows that Greek went in the opposite
direction in its evolution from Archaic to Classical Greek. Her point of
interest is the use of motion verbs with path phrases in the accusative and
dative case, the former being directional and the latter locative. She shows
that Greek gradually relied more on the truly goal-encoding accusative
phrases, thus becoming a more consistently satellite-framed language. Huber
studies changes in Middle English as it incorporated French path-conflating
verbs (e.g. enter, ascend) into its motion construction. She provides data to
show that these verbs were initially used in the same pattern as other verbs,
with prepositional path phrases, but were eventually allotted separate
constructions. Stefanowitch’s approach is to treat motion event patterns as a
group of largely independent constructions.  Instead of viewing a language as
being either satellite-framed or verb-framed, one can study motion
constructions available in that language. Under this analysis, for example,
Romance languages are found to use some German-type patterns where manner
verbs appear with prepositional phrases expressing directional motion (e.g.
Rose courait au bas de l'escalier ‘Rose ran to the foot of the stairs’). In a
way, this should not be surprising, because as Stefanowitsch notes, “most
languages have both path- and manner-verbs in their lexicon and allow both the
path-in-verb and the path-outside-verb pattern in actual usage.” (p. 226)


The overall picture is one of differences of degree, not kind. A language is
not either/or, but tending toward the satellite- or verb-framed end of the
continuum. To substantiate this view, the authors identify many factors that
complicate the binary typology of motion event expression. For example,
Filipović explains limited satellite-framed expression found in Serbo-Croatian
in terms of morphosyntactic constraints responsible for disallowing many
manner verbs in path-satellite patterns. The constraints she identifies apply
not only to Serbo-Croatian, but to similar cases in Polish and Czech, and
probably other Slavic languages too. Berthele identifies a correlation between
speech community size and the number of manner and path verbs used by the
speakers. When their speech communities are small, satellite-framed languages
do not necessarily have to feature a large variety of verbs. That is because
in small tight-knit communities, more common ground knowledge is shared, “more
information can be taken for granted and less explicit forms of utterances are
licensed”.  As a result, less lexical precision is necessary and fewer types
of verbs are used. Also, the incidence of verbs depends on the speakers’
“verbal intelligence” (p.67). This is certainly a fair observation especially
in the case of manner verbs, given that there are incomparably more manner
verbs than path verbs; the choice of the former requires more effort, and
indeed more creativity and eloquence, than the choice between options like
‘go’, ‘leave’, and ‘enter’.

However, while the amount of data and the thoroughness of analyses offered
here are truly impressive, it seems that part of the impression of variation
is an artifact of the criteria used to classify a language having
satellite-framed properties. Some contributors in the volume conclude that a
language exhibits signs of satellite-framed behavior based on examples of
sentences where manner is conflated with any path phrases. For example,
Berthele observes that speakers of Romance (verb-framed) languages in his
sample (French and three varieties of Romansch) use manner verbs with path
phrases and provides examples like
(1) il saute sur la ruche

‘he jumps onto the beehive’ (example 5, p. 62)
Similarly, Stefanowitsch gives example (2) below
(2) Rose courait au bas de l'escalier. (example 3b, p. 226)

‘Rose ran to the foot of the stairs.’
Huber gives an example from Middle English (3)
(3)Hors þat evir trottid.. It were hard to make hym aftir to ambill well.

‘A horse that ever trotted - it would be hard to make it amble well
afterwards.’ (example 1a, p. 206)
While the status of English as a satellite-framed language is secure enough
and does not need to be defended, the choice of examples is questionable. A
mere use of manner verbs with path phrases is a rather relaxed standard,
indeed so undemanding that probably any language can meet it. Under this
criterion, even a classic verb-framed language like Spanish allows manner
verbs directionally:
(4) La botella flotó en la dirección del mar.

The bottle floated in the direction of the sea.
A true litmus test is whether a language allows manner verbs to appear with
phrases that express the resultative element of boundary crossing (Aske,
1989). When this criterion is applied, much of the purported variation
disappears -- verb-framed languages cease to exhibit satellite-framed
properties. While French can indeed afford uses like (2) above, its
satellite-framed potential ends when it comes to expressing equivalents of
sentences like ‘Rose ran into the room’ (translated literally as ‘Rose courait
dans la pièce’ can only mean ‘Rose ran inside the room’, not ‘into the room’).

Also rather dubious are some conclusions drawn from reports of variation at
the opposite end of the continuum, where satellite-framed languages can be
observed to show signs of verb-framed behavior. Some authors note that
satellite-framed English also uses the verb-framed system (through verbs like
‘exit’, ‘pass’, or ‘ascend’), and they point out that, strictly under Talmy’s
typology, this seems to be against the very nature of English. For example,
Stefanowitsch reports that in the literature, these verbs cause some
consternation as an “oddity in an otherwise pure path-outside-verb language”
(p. 229). I believe this is a misunderstanding, a result of treating the two
systems on an equal footing. The path-in-verb system involving use of verbs
like ‘exit’ or ‘enter’ is probably available to all languages,
satellite-framed and verb-framed alike. It is simple standard equipment found
not only in classic verb-framed languages, but also in English and other
satellite-framed languages. On the other hand, the path-outside-verb system
found in satellite-framed languages is a special feature, a more complex way
of encoding motion. One could propose an implicational universal along the
lines of “If a language is capable of encoding motion satellite-framed style,
it also has the option of expressing motion by means of the verb-framed
system.” If this approach is accurate, any variation on the satellite-framed
side of the division is no longer variation; the choice between the two modes
of motion expression is a fairly unsurprising option, like the freedom to
occasionally resort to barter trade. Conversely, a verb-framed language cannot
and does not show true signs of satellite-framed behavior.

It is not my intention to dismiss the variation advocated in the
contributions. It is clear enough that, as the authors demonstrate, it is a
hallmark of motion event encoding. The examples of variation reported in each
contribution--as well as their discussion--are intriguing, pleasantly
stimulating, and indeed genuinely enlightening, and will certainly be welcomed
by cognitive linguists, typologists and generally all those interested in the
linguistic expression of motion. However, perhaps too much is being made of
the presence of variation across Talmy’s divide. To my mind, the variation
does not rule out a clear division; it does not justify writing off Talmy’s
binary typology as simplistic and replacing it with a continuum view.


Aske, J., 1989. Path predicates in English and Spanish: A closer look.. In:
Proceedings of the Fifteenth Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics
Society. Berkeley: BLS, pp. 1-14.

Talmy, L., 2000a. Toward A Cognitive Semantics. Volume I: Concept Structuring
Systems. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Talmy, L., 2000b. Toward A Cognitive Semantics. Volume II: Typology and
Process in Concept Structuring. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


I am currently involved in work on grammatical constructions within the
Construction Grammar framework. I am particularly interested in questions of
meaning in schematic grammatical constructions. I attempt to reconcile new
cognitive approaches with traditional views on questions such as the division
into closed- and open-class forms, the lexicon and syntax, and the kinds of
meanings that language forms are capable of conveying.

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