University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > RCEAL Tuesday Colloquia > Adults' Expression of Voluntary and Caused Motion Events in Chinese and in English

Adults' Expression of Voluntary and Caused Motion Events in Chinese and in English

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The domain of space presents some interesting properties. On the one hand, spatial understanding of human beings is said to be universal and to share the same biological heritage; one the other hand, the linguistic systems encoding spatial information vary strikingly. This paradox raises fundamental questions, among other things, for the issue of language typology. In the typological framework inspired by cognitive linguistics (i.e. Talmy’s verb-framed vs. satellite-framed languages), English is unanimously considered as a typical satellite-framed language whereas the exact status of Chinese is much debated (cf. Slobin’s equipollently-framed languages).

In this context, this talk examines adults’ expression of motion events in Chinese and English in a controlled experimental situation in which subjects are shown animated cartoons involving voluntary motion events on the one hand and caused motion events on the other. Aspects of motion expressions in Chinese and English are compared with the aim of illustrating the specific status of Chinese in motion event typology.

Results of our voluntary motion task reveal that speakers of Chinese show clear similarities to speakers of English. But verb-framed characteristics of Chinese are systematic and pronounced in caused motion expressions, where Chinese strikingly differs from English in terms of both information locus and the overall distribution pattern of multiple information components across an utterance.

On the basis of these findings, we argue that, contrary to the traditional classification of both English and Chinese as unequivocally satellite-framed languages, it is better to describe Chinese as an “equipollent” language standing midway along a verb-framed/satellite-framed continuum, in accordance with Slobin’s (2004) proposal.

This talk is part of the RCEAL Tuesday Colloquia series.

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