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Cognition 98 (2006) B75–B87 www.elsevier.com/locate/COGNIT

Brief article

When English proposes what Greek presupposes: The cross-linguistic encoding of motion events
Anna Papafragoua,*, Christine Masseyb, Lila Gleitmanb
b

Department of Psychology, University of Delaware, 109 Wolf Hall, Newark DE 19716, USA Institute for Research in Cognitive Science, University of Pennsylvania, 3401Walnut St., Suite 400A, Philadelphia PA 19104, USA Received 22 April 2004; revised 5 January 2005; accepted 2 May 2005

a

Abstract How do we talk about events we perceive? And how tight is the connection between linguistic and nonlinguistic representations of events? To address these questions, we experimentally compared motion descriptions produced by children and adults in two typologicallydistinct languages, Greek and English. Our findings confirm a well-known asymmetry between the two languages, such that English speakers are overall more likely to include manner of motion information than Greek speakers. However, mention of manner of motion in Greek speakers’ descriptions increases significantly when manner is not inferable; by contrast, inferability of manner has no measurableeffect on motion descriptions in English, where manner is already preferentially encoded. These results show that speakers actively monitor aspects of event structure, which do not find their way into linguistic descriptions. We conclude that, in regard to the differential encoding of path and manner, which has sometimes been offered as a prime example of the effects of language encoding onnonlinguistic thought, surface linguistic encoding neither faithfully represents nor strongly constrains our mental representation of events. q 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Motion; Space; Event cognition; Language production; Pragmatics; Whorf; Greek

1. Introduction How do humans talk about what they see? And what is the relationship between linguistic and conceptual eventstructure? In some obvious sense, the linguistic
* Corresponding author. E-mail address: papafragou@psych.udel.edu (A. Papafragou).

0022-2860/$ - see front matter q 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2005.05.005

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expression of events draws from and is constrained by basic, probably universal, elements ofcognitive event structure. For instance, human motion cognition isolates and attends to manner and direction of motion, intention and causation, agency and affectedness: and indeed, the corresponding meaning elements reliably show up in the linguistic encoding of events cross-linguistically. But within this broad space of meaning distinctions, individual languages are notoriously choosy in how theyencode motion event structure. To take one famous example, the segmentation and packaging of path and manner of motion are characterized by intense typological variability. As originally pointed out by Talmy (1975), English includes a large inventory of manner verbs (strut, bounce, slide, stroll, sashay, etc.) which can be freely combined with adverbs, particles or prepositional phrases encodingtrajectory information (away, into the forest, upwards, etc.). English path verbs (enter, exit, descend, etc.) are fewer in number and more restricted in distribution. By contrast, a language like Greek mostly expresses motion information in path verbs (beno ‘enter’, vjeno ‘exit’, perno ‘cross’, pao ‘go’, etc.) combined with prepositional phrases or adverbials which further specify path (stospiti ‘into the house’, makria ‘away’, etc.). Even though ordinary manner of motion verbs exist in Greek (sernome ‘crawl’, perpato ‘walk’, peto ‘fly’, etc.), their distribution is more restricted than in English (cf. Aske, 1989; Jackendoff, 1990; Levin, 1985; Levin & Rappaport Hovav, 1992; Slobin & Hoiting, 1994; Talmy, 1985; 2000). Specifically, Greek canonically disallows the co-occurrence of a...
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