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What makes up a reportable event in a language? Motion events as an important test domain in linguistic typology

  • Christiane von Stutterheim EMAIL logo , Johannes Gerwien , Abassia Bouhaous , Mary Carroll and Monique Lambert
From the journal Linguistics


Numerous crosslinguistic studies on motion events have been carried out in investigating the scope of the two-fold typology “path versus manner” (Talmy 1985, 2000) and its possible implications. This typological contrast is too narrow as it stands, however, to account for the diversity found both within and across types. The present study is based on what can be termed a process-oriented perspective. It includes the analyses of all relevant conceptual domains notably the domain of temporality, in addition to space, and thus goes beyond previous studies. The languages studied differ typologically as follows: path is typically expressed in the verb in French and Tunisian Arabic in contrast to manner of motion in English and German, while in the temporal domain aspect is expressed grammatically in English and Tunisian Arabic but not in German and French. The study compares the representations which speakers construct when forming a reportable event as a response to video clips showing a series of naturalistic scenes in which an entity moves through space. The analysis includes the following conceptual categories: (1) the privileged event layer (manner vs. path) which drives the selection of breakpoints in the formation of event units when processing the visual input; (2) the privileged category in spatial framing (figure-based/ground-based) and (3) viewpoint aspect (phasal decomposition or not). We assume that each of these three cognitive categories is shaped specifically by language structure (both system and repertoire) and language use (frequency of constructions). The findings reveal systematic differences both across, as well as within, typologically related languages with respect to (1) the basic event type encoded, (2) the changes in quality expressed, (3) the total number of path segments encoded per situation, and (4) the number of path segments packaged into one utterance. The findings reveal what can be termed language-specific default settings along each of the conceptual dimensions and their interrelations which function as language specific attentional templates.

Corresponding author: Christiane von Stutterheim, Institut für Deutsch als Fremdsprachenphilologie, Universität Heidelberg, Plöck 55, 69117 Heidelberg, Germany, E-mail:

Appendix A Instructions for the four language groups:

Instructions: French

Vous allez voir maintenant quelques vidéos représentant des petites scènes. Votre tâche consiste à dire ce qui se passe dans chaque vidéo. Employez seulement des phrases complètes et concentrez-vous sur ce qui est important. Appuyez sur la barre ‘espace’ à la fin de votre enregistrement sonore pour passer à la vidéo suivante.

Instructions: German

Sie sehen jetzt eine Reihe von kurzen Video-Clips. Bitte beschreiben Sie bei jedem Video was passiert. Benutzen Sie bitte nur vollständige Sätze und konzentrieren Sie sich auf das Wesentliche. Drücken Sie die Leertaste, wenn Sie mit Ihrer Beschreibung fertig sind und Sie mit der Beschreibung des nächsten Videos fortfahren möchten.

Instructions: English

You will see a set of video clips, 40 in all, showing everyday events which are not connected with one another. Your task is to tell what is happening? It is not necessary to describe the scene in detail (e.g., sky is blue). Please use full sentences. You can start as soon as you recognize what is going on. Press the space bar, after you have finished your description. The next video will start automatically.

Instructions: Tunisian (Note that Tunisian is basically an oral variety. We provide a written version of the orally given instruction.)

beš tšūf des videos qsār. qolli šnuwwa qa‘ed ysīr fi kol video, rakkebli ǧomal kamlīn w rakkez ken ‘ala šnuwwa qa‘ed ysīr. kol ma tkammel inzel ‘ala “espace” beš yeḍhar il video illi ba‘du.

Appendix B Description of the video stimuli: Control items

  1. A woman is passing by a fountain in a park.

  2. A boat is slowly going up a river.

  3. A young man is passing by a fountain while dribbling with a tennis ball.

  4. A girl is walking up a hill approaching a cabin.

  5. A man is walking down some stairs outdoors, approaching a wooden gate.

  6. A woman is walking with a woven basket along a path way.

  7. A person on a scooter is slowly driving down a street.

  8. A person with crutches is walking up some steps.

Critical items

  1. A woman walks past a fountain up some stairs

  2. A young woman rushes down some stairs, and runs down the path

  3. A tennis ball comes rolling towards some stairs and rolls down the steps

  4. A woman pushes a stroller towards a ramp, turns right and pushes it down the ramp

  5. A small ball bounces down some stairs and then rolls over to the right

  6. A woman on a bike cycles down a cobbled road and goes around a corner towards an open gateway

  7. A man passes by a parking lot, turns left and approaches the entrance of an old building

  8. A man passes by a parked car, turns left and passes through a gateway

  9. A man is walking on a street, turns left and approaches the entrance of a building

  10. A man is walking down a street, turns right and walks up some stairs by taking two steps at once

  11. An old man on a bike is slowly approaching a lamp post in front of a building and turning.

  12. A man on a bike is changing direction and approaching the gateway of a courtyard.

Appendix C Number of segments per item - critical items

Item Item (Excel tables) Segment 1 Segment 2 Segment 3 Segment 4
1 2 Past Up Away
2 2n Out Down Change direction Away
3 3 Along Down stairs Away
4 6 Out Change direction Down
5 7n Down Away Change direction
6 15n Along Change direction into
7 17n Past/along Change direction into
8 20n Past/along Change direction Through
9 21n Along Change direction Along into
10 25n Along Change direction Up into/through
11 14 into Towards Change direction Away
12 16 Across Towards Through


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Published Online: 2020-10-14
Published in Print: 2020-11-25

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