What makes path of motion salient?

Stéphanie Pourcel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This paper develops previous empirical work on the relationship between language and cognition, i.e. linguistic relativity. The approach combines domain- and structure-centred epistemologies (Lucy 1997), starting from the experiential domain of human motion with a special focus on the dimensions of Path and Manner, and from the lexicalisation patterns available in the French and the English languages to express motion events. Data obtained in earlier work from categorization and elicitation tasks on motion indicates that English lexicalises Manner and Path in 85% of motion verb phrases, whereas French lexicalises Path only in 65% of verb phrases – leaving Manner optionally lexicalised. This divergence led to the hypothesizing of a weaker level of cognitive salience for Manner amongst French speakers. Categorization tasks on motion with English and French subjects failed to support the hypothesis, as 60% of responses indicated Path salience in both groups. Here I review these findings and their implications, and present new experimental findings on memory, attention, inference, and overall cognitive salience of motion dimensions. Experiments include free recall, cue memorisation, and dimensional drawing. Preliminary findings confirm the cognitive prevalence of Path in motion conceptualization – regardless of the native input. Such findings would support the core schematicity of Path in language and in cognition proposed by Talmy (1991). This paper further addresses the potential reasons behind the centrality of Path in human motion conceptualization. It suggests that, alongside previous proposals such as the cognitive simplicity of Path as shown through earlier acquisition and over-extensions by children (e.g. Choi and Bowerman 1991), other factors are responsible for Path salience. Indeed, single factors alone fail to explain findings in other studies reporting cross-linguistic Manner salience approximating 60% (e.g. Zlatev and David 2003). The ultimate proposal is that Path receives greater salience depending on a range of variables, e.g. Path telicity, Manner force dynamics, Figure animacy and agency.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)505-516
Number of pages12
JournalProceedings of the Berkeley linguistics society
Issue number30
Publication statusPublished - 2004


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