Fenomenologi och språktypologi av rörelse

Humanistiska och teologiska fakulteterna | Lunds universitet

Project description

Phenomenology and Typology of Motion (PATOM)

1. Purpose and aims

The project investigates the human experience of different kinds of motion, and the ways different languages and individual speakers construe such experience. On a general level, the project will clarify the interrelation between experiential motivations and linguistic conventions. More specifically, it will clarify how semantic conventions are realized in the speech and gestures of children and adults, and explore the dimensions of cross-linguistic variation. By combining methods and concepts from phenomenology (i.e. the systematic description of what appears to consciousness), cognitive and typological linguistics (investigating universals and variation in the semantics of languages) and developmental psycholinguistics (studying the way children acquire the conventions of their languages) the project will break new ground in each of these areas, and in synergetic fields such as cognitive science and cognitive semiotics.


2. Survey of the field

The overarching theoretical context of the project is cognitive semiotics (Sonesson 2009; Zlatev 2012), a synergistic field combining concepts and methods from the humanities (semiotics, linguistics, and phenomenology) with the social and biological sciences, with the ultimate aim of providing new insights into the realm of human signification and its manifestation in cultural practices. The global aim is to contribute to a unified world-view without reductionism and thus “mending the gap between science and the humanities” (Gould 2003). A central notion is the conceptual-empirical spiral, starting with conceptual “what” questions (e.g. “what is motion”?), drawing empirical implications and conducting studies which then reverberate on the initial questions (Zlatev 2012). The following two interrelated research areas are focused in the current project.


2.1. Phenomenology and cognitive semantics

Phenomenology is the school of philosophy inaugurated by Edmund Husserl, with eminent 20th century followers such as Heidegger, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty. Informally, the methods of phenomenology are based on “the careful description of what appears to consciousness precisely in the manner of its appearing” (Moran 2005: 1). More recently, phenomenology has been combined with cognitive science to yield productive analyses of embodiment, intersubjectivity and temporality (Gallagher and Zahavi 2008). In relation to language, there are important overlaps with cognitive-functional semantics (Langacker 1997; Talmy 2000; Croft 2013), such as the emphasis on construal, i.e. the thesis that language does not denote “the world as such”, but the world of experience, the life-world (Zlatev 2010). Phenomenology offers tools for the semanticist attempting to characterize the structure of experience, as a preliminary step to asking how this is “encoded” (i.e. construed) in language. Even the “father of linguistic relativity”, Whorf, pointed out that “in describing differences between [languages] … we must have a way of describing phenomena by non-linguistic standards and by terms that refer to experience as it must be to all human beings, irrespective of their languages or philosophies” (Whorf 1956: 6).

Thus, in characterizing motion, we can first provide a general experiential definition: change of the relative position of a figure against a background (Zlatev, Blomberg and David 2010). Furthermore, we can distinguish between 8 motion situation types, falling out as the logical combinations of three binary parameters: (1) ±translocative, with continuous change of an object’s relative position according to a spatial frame of reference (e.g. FIGURE MOVES TO LANDMARK VS. FIGURE WALKS. (2) ±bounded, i.e. with respect to the beginning, middle or end of the trajectory of motion (e.g. FIGURE REACHES LANDMARK VS. FIGURE APPROACHES LANDMARK. (3) ±caused, with the figure perceived as either moving under the influence of an external cause or not (e.g. FIGURE FALLS VS. AGENT THROWS FIGURE). How languages express these 8 types remains to be determined, but our analysis indicates that the distinctions between the types are systematically marked linguistically, both in the domain of motion, and when extended metaphorically to emotion (Zlatev, Blomberg and Magnusson 2012). What remains to be developed theoretically is the interplay between spatial, or more general qualitative boundedness of motion events, and their temporal boundedness in the temporal-aspectual profiles (Croft 2013). For example; (1) is q-bounded but not t-bounded, and (2) is t-bounded, but not (necessarily) q-bounded.


(1) He is going to school.

(2) He fell.


Another kind of motion for which phenomenology offers analytic insights is non-actual motion (NAM). In cognitive semantics, it is often noted that sentences such as (3) and (4) display motion features but denote static states of affairs (Talmy 2000: 104).


(3) The mountain range goes all the way from Canada to Mexico.

(4) The mountain range goes all the way from Mexico to Canada.


It is felt that such sentences have a close experiential link to actual motion, and that a “subjective” (Langacker 1987) or “fictive” (Talmy 2000) experience of motion is part of their meaning. The semantic difference between (3) and (4) has been attributed to “mental simulation” of motion in opposite directions (Matlock 2004). However, a general explanation of such sentences in terms of mental/cognitive/embodied simulation is problematic, and that the term “fictive motion” is misleading (Blomberg and Zlatev 2014; Blomberg 2014). Relying on phenomenology, we distinguish three structures of experience that may individually or in combination motivate the use of such sentences: (i) the (en)active nature of perception, (ii) visual/mental scanning, and (iii) re-enactive imagination. Examples (5-7) can be seen as primarily motivated by (i)-(iii), respectively. Still, NAM-sentences are in general a “hybrid” phenomenon, motivated by multiple experiential factors, as well as constrained by linguistic conventions. Since NAM-sentences do not denote/profile actual motion situations, their semantics should be comparatively less rich in sensorimotor detail than that of corresponding AM-sentences (Blomberg 2014).


(5) The highway goes through the forest. (< active perception)

(6) The wire goes through the forest. (< mental scanning)

(7) The path snakes through the forest. (< imagination)


Finally, the theory of Holistic Spatial Semantics (HSS) (Zlatev 1997, 2007) is part of our theoretical framework. In brief, this theory claims that (i) there are 8 general spatial semantic categories (Figure, Landmark, Motion, Frame of Reference, Region, Path, Direction, Manner), with basis in universal properties of sensorimotor experience, but considerably more schematic and shaped by language; (ii) apart from variations in the exact values of these categories, languages differ in the way the categories are mapped onto sentential constituents, but always in a many-to-many fashion between categories and constituents, i.e. through patterns of conflation (many categories-one form) and distribution (one category-many forms); (iii) whole sentences can express emergent meanings, as in Construction Grammar (Goldberg 1995). This theoretical framework is also our point of departure in addressing the second research area of the project: motion event typology.

The domain of motion has been immensely important for phenomenology itself, where one has argued that self-motion is a precondition for the ability to perceive a three-dimensional world (Overgaard 2012). In a well-known work of the “primacy of movement” Sheets-Johnstone (1999) strongly criticizes a definition in terms of “change of position”, arguing rather for a holistic, qualitative concept of motion: “… a temporal-spatial-energetic dynamic, a kinetic aliveness that is in play throughout the course of our everyday lives” (Sheets-Johnstone 2012: 29). On other hand, Zlatev, Blomberg and Magnusson (2012) propose that the change-of-position concept of motion derives from a different perspective on motion: a third-person, observational one, as in the one adopted in the taxonomy of Zlatev Blomberg and David (2010). By emphasizing the experience of the observer, this is no less experiential than the internal perspective. Such a perspective can also be applied to human self-motion, through the process of perspective change, well known in phenomenology (Zahavi 2003), and related to the concept of construal in cognitive linguists (Langacker 1987). A motion event can be experienced both as “changing place or position” – when observed from a third-person perspective (in time and space), and as movement, when focusing on the “internal” qualitative dynamics. Of course, not all cases of observed motion involve the movement of an animate being, and even less so of a human being, but such motion is certainly a salient sub-type of motion in general.


2.2 Motion event typology

Semantic typology studies constraints on the linguistic variation of how a particular “domain” such as Color, Time or Space is expressed across languages. With respect to motion, this involves the area of motion event typology. Given a conceptual decomposition of a motion event in (at least) the components Motion, Path and Manner, it has long been known that some languages tend to express Motion and Path in their verbs (e.g. French entrer ‘to enter’), while other languages tend to express Motion and Manner in the verb, and encode Path in a particle, (e.g. walk in), also known as a “satellite” (Talmy 2000).

While sparking off much typological and psycholinguistic research, this binary typology has met a number of problems. Aske (1989) remarked that while “verb-framed” languages do indeed conflate motion+path in verbs when there is a clear state transition, they commonly display the motion+manner pattern of “satellite languages” in other contexts. Zlatev and David (2003) and Zlatev and Yangklang (2004) showed that Thai, and possibly other serial verb languages, resemble verb-framed languages in some respects (e.g. path is expressed by a main verb), satellite-framed languages in other respects (e.g. manner is also expressed by a main verb), while in yet other respects they resemble neither (e.g. by having a separate ‘slot’ in the serial verb construction for deictic verbs). Slobin (2004, 2006) generalized this pattern into a third language type. This proposal, however, was perceived as something of a patch-up for the original binary typology and it has been argued that a more comprehensive mapping of the various constructions for expressing motion across languages is necessary (Beavers, Levin and Tham 2010; Croft et al. 2010; Zlatev et al. 2010; Iacobini and Fagard 2011). Also, Slavic languages with extensive use of aspect-encoding prefixes (e.g. Russian v-hodit: ‘in(PRF)-walk’), have not easily complied to any of the above types. Given increased sensitivity among linguists to various dimensions of variation: within prospective types and languages and across usage contexts, constructions, and even individual speakers – it is currently generally accepted that any new motion typology needs to be based on systematic usage data, from a considerable number of languages and speakers.

In our own previous work in this field (Fagard et al, in press), we have both documented extensive variation “within” types (French and Piedmontese), as well as surprising similarities across types (German and Thai), and have argued that the typology of motion (actual, non-actual and metaphorical) needs to be conducted afresh, based on consistent concepts (see above), and systematic empirical methodology.


3. Project description

In our project, we focus on one language for each of the four kinds described briefly in the previous section: French (“verb-framed”), Swedish (“particle-framed”), Thai (“third type”) and Bulgarian (“prefix-framed”). We have investigated these languages earlier, and have native-level competence in three of them, and a history of collaboration with a native-speaker assistant of Thai. For each language, 4 age groups of 20 speakers (children aged 5, 7 and 9 years and adults) will be recruited in the country where the language is a national language. Jointly, this implies 80 speakers per language, 320 in total.


3.1 Stimuli and procedure

For the purpose of eliciting comparable descriptions of actual motion (AM) situations, we will develop an elicitation tool, consisting of 52 video-clips, each approximately 10 seconds long, and 5 additional training clips. Similarly to the “Trajectoire” project (Ishibashi, Kopecka and Vuillermet 2006), we will record actors performing various kinds of motion situations from different angles, producing stimuli that are much closer to real-life than the static pictures used in earlier studies (e.g. Berman and Slobin 1994). For the study of non-actual motion (NAM), we will build on an existing elicitation tool (Blomberg 2014), consisting of 36 pictures drawn by a professional artist. 24 of these are intended to elicit NAM-descriptions and 12 are controls, showing static locative relations. Crucially, the 24 target pictures conform to the 2x2 design: half show figures that afford self-motion (e.g. roads), and half show extended figures (e.g. fences) that do not; crossed with these, half show the figure extended across the picture, sideways, and half show it extending to the position of the observer, i.e. resembling a first-person perspective.

For both studies, the stimulus pictures and videos will be presented on a computer monitor. For the AM task, instructions will be to describe the clip with respect to the place or movement of the figure. (Any gestures produced in this task will be studied for exploratory purposes only, since the procedure is not adapted for gesture elicitation.) For the NAM-task, each participant will be asked to describe the picture to a “second participant” (an adult confederate) in sufficient detail so that the addressee can pick it out from a set of pictures. All data will be video-recorded, and transcribed using ELAN, where the analysis of all gestures produced by the participant during the NAM task will be performed. To facilitate glossing, morpho-syntactic and semantic coding, the linguistic descriptions of both tasks will be extracted and exported to Excel, and analyzed using the categories of Holistic Spatial Semantics (Section 2.1).


3.2 Predictions

Based on the theories summarized Section 2 we can make a number of predictions. Some of these are universalistic:

• All languages will encode the differences between the 8 motion situation types.

• The 8 categories of Holistic Spatial Semantics will be necessary and sufficient to represent the core meaning of any translocative sentence.

• Any translocative sentence will code explicitly for at least one Frame of Reference (FoR).

• The semantics of NAM descriptions will be less specific than corresponding AM descriptions.


We also expect to find cross-linguistic differences such as the following:

• Speakers of a serial-verb language with a dedicated slot for Deixis (Thai) will construe the motion events with a Viewpoint-centered FoR more often than speakers of the other languages.

• Speakers of French would indeed express Manner less frequently than those of Swedish, Bulgarian or Thai (all of which regularly use “manner verbs”)

Concerning non-actual motion, our multi-motivational analysis (cf. Section 2.1) predicts that when describing pictures of static, linearly extended figures like roads and fences speakers of all languages will be more likely to describe the first rather than the latter in dynamic terms. Furthermore, when we manipulate the viewpoint dimension, so that some pictures show the figures from a first-person perspective, we expect more NAM-sentences than when such figures are shown from a third-person perspective.

Concerning the developmental dimension, our project can be compared with one of the “classic” methodologies in the field: the use of the picture book “Frog Where are You?” to elicit narratives of children of different ages and cultures (Berman and Slobin 1994). Children in the age groups of 3, 5, 9 and 11 were studied, and while as early as 5 years children displayed tendencies to converge on their linguistic-culture type of construal, it was only by 9 years of age that this effect was robust. Given that our age groups are 5, 7 and 9 years, we expect to find similar effects, e.g. Thai children to focus relatively more on Deixis and French children relatively less on Manner than the other groups in the oldest age group. At the same time, given our greater emphasis on universal aspects of experience than other frameworks, we also expect to see patterns that run across the languages to be reflected from an early age – perhaps even stronger than in adults, due to a lesser degree of familiarity with the language-specific conventions for the children.

The analysis of co-speech gestures will provide further evidence on how the described events are experienced during speech production (Kita and Özyürek 2003; McNeill 2005). Thus, we expect afford-motion, first-person perspective pictures to elicit a greater number of gestures that represent non-moving entities through movement (Liddell 2003; Streeck 2009) while first-person perspective pictures should elicit a greater number of so-called “character-viewpoint” gestures (McNeill 2005). This means that we expect NAM patterns in gesticulation to follow NAM-patterns in speech. Any discrepancies between the gestural and the spoken modality that may appear would shed further light on the on-line cognitive processes involved in production of NAM-sentences (similarly to how metaphors may be considered differentially “alive” depending on the ways people gesture when using metaphorical expressions, cf. Müller 2008).


3.3. Project plan

The project can be schematically divided into the following tasks:

• (T1) develop further the phenomenology-grounded taxonomy of motion situations (Zlatev, Blomberg & David 2010) and of the phenomenon “non-actual motion” (Blomberg & Zlatev 2013);

• (T2) develop new stimuli for eliciting descriptions of actual (videos) and non-actual motion situations (pictures), based on earlier work (Blomberg 2014; Fagard et al. in press);

• (T3) elicit descriptions of these stimuli from speakers of four typologically and genealogically different languages: French, Swedish, Thai and Bulgarian, with four age groups per language (5, 7, 9-year old children, and adults);

• (T4) analyze the spontaneous descriptions (and co-speech gestures from one of the two tasks);

• (T5) draw conclusions on the theoretical issues outlined in Section 1;

• (T6) disseminate results through conferences and publications.

2016 will be devoted to tasks (T1) and (T2), including piloting of the stimuli and elicitation procedure with Swedish and French speakers.

2017 will realize the bulk of the empirical work in (T3) and (T4),

2018 will focus on (T5) and (T6).


The results of the project will be reported at international conferences related to language and cognition (such as ICLC, IACS; AFLICO, and SALC), and a conference with the title of the project will be held at Lund University during the fall semester of 2018, inviting key researchers in the field. Publishing will target reputed international journals such as Cognitive Linguistics, Phenomenology and Cognitive Sciences, Language & Cognition, as well as open access journals such Frontiers in Psychology. The project will pursue an open access policy, placing pre-prints of all publications in the open database Lund University Publishing (LUP).


4. Significance

The project will have a strong impact on the synergetic field of cognitive semiotics, and on the specific areas targeted. Theoretically, it will contribute to deepening the interpenetration between phenomenology and cognitive semantics, from which both areas only stand to benefit: cognitive semantics from concepts and methods derived from the systematic analysis of conscious experience, and phenomenology from greater attention to linguistic, predicative experience (cf. Blomberg & Zlatev 2013). Concerning motion typology, the project will make a strong contribution through its systematic conceptual apparatus, carefully elicited data from four different languages, combing data for both actual and non-actual motion, as well as from co-speech gestures. While the developmental issues are not at the fore, the inclusion of both child and adult speech and gestures will contribute to answering questions on how the interaction between speech and gesture changes over time, and how each relates to both universal and language-specific aspects of motion experience. Ultimately, such knowledge will have significance for more applied fields such as second-language acquisition and foreign language teaching.





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