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The typology of motion expressions revisited1


This paper provides a new perspective on the options available to languages for encoding directed motion events. Talmy (2000) introduces an influential two-way typology, proposing that languages adopt either verb- or satellite-framed encoding of motion events. This typology is augmented by Slobin (2004b) and Zlatev & Yangklang (2004) with a third class of equipollently-framed languages. We propose that the observed options can instead be attributed to: (i) the motion-independent morphological, lexical, and syntactic resources languages make available for encoding manner and path of motion, (ii) the role of the verb as the single clause-obligatory lexical category that can encode either manner or path, and (iii) extra-grammatical factors that yield preferences for certain options. Our approach accommodates the growing recognition that most languages straddle more than one of the previously proposed typological categories: a language may show both verb- and satellite-framed patterns, or if it allows equipollent-framing, even all three patterns. We further show that even purported verb-framed languages may not only allow but actually prefer satellite-framed patterns when appropriate contextual support is available, a situation unexpected if a two- or three-way typology is assumed. Finally, we explain the appeal of previously proposed two- and three-way typologies: they capture the encoding options predicted to be preferred once certain external factors are recognized, including complexity of expression and biases in lexical inventories.

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Authors' addresses: Department of Linguistics, The University of Texas at Austin, 1 University Station, B5100, Austin, TX 78712-0198,
Department of Linguistics, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-2150,
Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures, Wellesley College, 106 Central Street, Wellesley, MA 02481-8203,
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This work was supported in part by NSF Small Grant for Exploratory Research BCS-0004437 to Beth Levin. We have benefited from the comments of two anonymous JL reviewers, and we also thank Jürgen Bohnemeyer, Marc Ettlinger, Itamar Francez, Hyun Jong Hahm, Hayriye Kayi, Andrew Koontz-Garboden, Ulia Lierler, Jean-Philippe Marcotte, Tatiana Nikitina, Peter Sells, Dan Slobin, Judith Tonhauser, Kiyoko Uchiyama, and Stephen Wechsler for discussion, suggestions, and comments, as well as audiences at the Stanford Diversity in Language Workshop, the 2006 LSA Annual Meeting, the Stanford Semantics Fest, and Trinity University. We are grateful to Malka Rappaport Hovav and Maria Polinsky for helpful discussion at earlier stages of this research. Finally, we thank Grace Song, whose earlier work with Beth Levin (Song & Levin 1998) was a direct precursor of this paper.

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Journal of Linguistics
  • ISSN: 0022-2267
  • EISSN: 1469-7742
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-linguistics
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