Centrum för kognitiv semiotik (CCS)

Humanistiska och teologiska fakulteterna | Lunds universitet

Relaxing the “boundary-crossing constraint” in (supposedly) verb framed languages

Viswanatha Naidu

It has been proposed that in supposedly verb-framed languages, such as French, in contrast to satellite-framed languages, such as English and Swedish, it is not possible to use a manner-of-motion verb such as courir (Fr. ‘run’) to describe an event with “boundary crossing” (Aske 1989; Slobin 1994; Talmy 2000; Özcalisken 2015). If a prepositional phrase denoting a delineated space (like a room) is used in such a context, the only possible interpretation is said to be locative and not translocative (1).

(1)    Il     a     dansé dans     la     cuisine.
He    PST    dance    in    DEF    kitchen
‘He danced inside/*into the kitchen.’

However, more recent research has shown that verb-framed languages are far from being a homogeneous category (Ibarretxe-Antunano 2009; Fagard et al. 2013), and that even in a given language, there is considerable variation with respect to the “boundary-crossing constraint”. We argue that the following factors contribute to “relaxing” the constraint: (a) implicated direction of movement in a given manner verb, (b) degree to which the landmark phrase denotes prototypical containment and (c) real-world knowledge. For example, Telugu (Dravidian) may be regarded as verb-framed due to the regular use of verbs like vellu ‘go’, but as shown in (2), it is possible to express translocation with a manner verb that implies directional movement (‘run’), but not with one that does not (‘dance’).
(2)    ammAyi     iMTlO-ki     parigettiMdi / *DAnsiMdi
girl         house-to     ran/*danced
‘A girl ran/*danced into the house.’

Even French, often given as a typical illustration of the boundary-crossing constraint, shows such variation. If the context of (3) is that I hear the sound of a cry in the kitchen while in the living room, then a translocative reading is most natural with both prepositions. On the other hand, in a neutral context, and with a PP that does not denote typical containment as in (4), a translocative interpretation is only possible - in some contexts - with the preposition à (‘to’), but not with dans (‘in’).

(3)     J’    ai      couru    à/dans la     cuisine.
I    PST     run    to/in    DEF    kitchen
‘I ran into the kitchen.’
(4)     Il    a      couru    à/dans         l’     ombre.
I    PST     run    to/inside    DEF    shadow
He ran ?into/inside the shadow.
Against this backdrop, we provide an analysis of such variation using the framework of Holistic Spatial Semantics (Zlatev 2003; Blomberg 2014), according to which a boundary-crossing reading can be expressed either overtly (in a preposition like ‘into’) or covertly, through a combination of factor such as (a-c). Typologically, some languages such as the prototypically verb-framed Spanish and French, could be said to prefer the covert strategy.


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