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From time to space: The impact of aspectual categories on the construal of motion events: The case of Tunisian Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic

Christiane von Stutterheim, Abbassia Bouhaous and Mary Carroll
From the journal Linguistics


Motion events and their linguistic form have been studied extensively over the past decades from a typological as well as a psycholinguistic point of view. While many studies take Talmy’s (1985. Lexicalization patterns: Semantic structure in lexical forms. In Timothy Shopen (ed.), Language typology and syntactic description: Grammatical categories and the lexicon, vol. 3, 57–149. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Toward a cognitive semantics. Cambridge: MIT Press) distinction as the starting point of their theoretical considerations, this twofold, lexicon-based typology has since been extended to capture the range of variation which languages display. Although the specifics of motion event conceptualization entail other factors in addition to space and lexical form, there are few studies on the implications of temporal categories. The aim of the present study is to document the role of aspectual categories in the construal of motion events, as observed in Tunisian Arabic (TA) and Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), two closely-related varieties with relevant contrasts in the types of verbal aspectual categories they encode. The analysis is based on descriptions of different types of motion events elicited on the basis of video clips. The findings reveal basic differences in the spatial and temporal categories selected for encoding-differences which are rooted in the respective linguistic systems: while TA, in contrast to MSA, has fewer forms to express directed motion via spatial concepts (path verbs, prepositions), its aspectual system is richer. The comparison indicates how the expression of directed motion in spatial terms in MSA is conveyed via temporal aspect (progression) in TA. In conclusion, the study outlines the case for the inclusion of temporal categories, in particular grammaticalized aspect, in approaches to the typology of motion events.


We would like to thank the DFG (German Research Foundation) for financial support. For valuable comments and help with the data we wish to thank Wolfgang Klein, Monique Lambert, Pascale Leclerc, Agnieszka Tytus and Brigitte Greiling. We are also grateful to two anonymous reviewers for their detailed and valuable input.


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Appendix. Types and frequency of verbs used

Verbs in MSAVerbs in TA
ʻto enterʼʻto enterʼ
ʻto direct oneselfʼʻto passʼ
ʻto goʼʻto turnʼ
ʻto passʼʻto climb, to go upʼ
ʻto climb, to go upʼʻto stopʼ
ʻto crossʼʻto goʼ
ʻto approachʼʻto comeʼ
ʻto stopʼʻto exit, to go outʼ
ʻto exit, to go outʼ
ʻto direct oneselfʼ
ʻto depart, to get awayʼ
ʻto arriveʼ
ʻto leave, to go along, to startʼ
ʻto turnʼ
Path verbstotal (302)total (236)
Manner verbstotal (58)total (64)
Neutral verbstotal (220)total (285)
Published Online: 2017-1-7
Published in Print: 2017-1-1

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