When English proposes what Greek presupposes: the cross-linguistic encoding of motion events

Cognition 98 (3):75-87 (2006)
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Abstract

How do we talk about events we perceive? And how tight is the connection between linguistic and non-linguistic representations of events? To address these questions, we experimentally compared motion descriptions produced by children and adults in two typologically distinct 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 measurable effect 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 on non-linguistic thought, surface linguistic encoding neither faithfully represents nor strongly constrains our mental representation of events

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