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Cognitive Linguistics

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Children's verbalizations of motion events in German

Anne-Katharina Ochsenbauer1 / Maya Hickmann2

1University of Munich

2University of Paris

Address for correspondence: A.-K. Ochsenbauer, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Institut für Deutsche Philologie, Schellingstraße 3/RG, 80799 München. Email:

Address for correspondence: M. Hickmann, CNRS Laboratoire Structures Formelles du Langage, UMR 7023, 59 rue Pouchet, 75017 Paris, France. Email:

Citation Information: Cognitive Linguistics. Volume 21, Issue 2, Pages 217–238, ISSN (Online) 1613-3641, ISSN (Print) 0936-5907, DOI: 10.1515/COGL.2010.008, June 2010

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Recent studies in language acquisition have paid much attention to linguistic diversity and have begun to show that language properties may have an impact on how children construct and organize their representations. With respect to motion events, Talmy (Towards a cognitive semantics: Concept structuring systems, Cambridge University Press, 2000) has proposed a typological distinction between satellite-framed (S) languages that encode path in satellites, leaving the verb root free for the expression of manner, and verb-framed (V) languages that encode path in the verb, requiring manner to be expressed in the periphery of the sentence. This distinction has lead to the hypothesis (Slobin, From “thought and language” to “thinking for speaking”, Cambridge University Press, 1996) that manner should be more salient for children learning S-languages, who should have no difficulty combining it with path, as compared to those learning V-languages. This hypothesis was tested in a corpus elicited from German children and adults who had to verbalize short animated cartoons showing motion events, and the results are compared with previous analyses of French and English corpora elicited in an identical situation (Hickmann et al., Journal of Child Language, 36: 705–741, 2009). As predicted, and as previously found for English, German children from three years on systematically express both manner (in the verb root) and path (in particles), in sharp contrast to French children, who rarely package manner and path together. These results suggest that, when they are engaged in communication, children construct spatial representations in accordance with the particular properties of their mother tongue. Future research is necessary to determine the extent to which cross-linguistic differences in production may reflect deeper differences in the allocation of attention and in conceptual organization.

Keywords:: cognitive linguistics; language acquisition; language typology; space; thinking for speaking; Whorfianism

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