Thoughts in motion: linguistic experience and conceptual representation

  • Date: –17:00
  • Location: Engelska parken 9-2029
  • Lecturer: Guillermo Montero Melis (Stockholm University)
  • Organiser: General Linguistics
  • Contact person: Harald Hammarström
  • Föreläsning

Abstract: Do linguistic categories (e.g., words or syntactic constructions) have an effect on the conceptual categories we use to analyse the world around us even when we are not speaking? One way to address this question is to test whether differences in how languages carve up a given semantic domain like colour or space lead to differences in performance on non-verbal tasks when comparing speakers of different languages. This talk focuses on this question in the domain of motion events. I will present three studies that evaluate whether typological differences in motion event descriptions (Talmy, 2000) lead to differences in how motion events are mentally represented in non-verbal similarity tasks. Study 1 looks at a large sample of 19 geographically distributed languages that vary with regard to motion event encoding (satellite- or verb-framing) and finds no significant effect of typological status on motion event representation. Study 2 employs an improved methodology to compare native Spanish and Swedish speakers and finds language effects when language can be accessed, but not under a verbal interference task. Study 3 shows that the representation of motion events can be primed with recent linguistic exposure, suggesting ad hoc construction of event representations. Overall, the studies reveal a nuanced picture of language effects on motion cognition, with subtle effects played out against a backdrop of commonalities. Time permitting, I will show that Spanish and Swedish also markedly differ in the amount of within-language variability of motion descriptions (larger variability in Spanish than in Swedish), which suggests some unexplored ways in which language might create templates for carving up events in the world.

Talmy, L. (2000). Toward a cognitive semantics: Typology and process in concept structuring. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.