Does language affect the way we perceive and talk about the visual world?
Associate professor Efstathia Soroli at the University of Lille (France) will present evidence from cross-linguistic research and eye tracking.
Her research bears on the experimental investigation of the relationship between language and cognition (semantics/syntax interface). She is particularly interested in spatial cognition research within a functional cross-linguistic (English, French, Greek) approach to language and acquired language disorders (aphasia) in monolingual and multilingual contexts.
In this talk I will focus on cross-linguistic comparisons in order to identify possible links between the computational (behavioral) and the algorithmic (cognitive) levels of processing that can be traced back to specific features of the language systems (lexical/morphosyntactic). The research I will present, focuses on spatial language and the way people represent space and more specifically motion events.
Verb-framed languages lexicalize Path of motion in the verb, whereas Satellite-framed languages express Path in constituents that stand in a sister position to the verb (satellites), lexicalizing Manner of motion instead (Talmy 1985). In recent years, the growing literature in this domain starts to show that there are more ways to linguistically encode motion as originally proposed (Slobin 2006, Matsumoto 2013, Soroli & Verkerk, in press). One of the languages that is of special interest in this respect is Modern Greek. Greek – despite a general consent of a clear V-framed system (Papafragou et al. 2006) – presents an intermediate (parallel) system of conflation employing both parallel verb- and satellite-framed constructions (Talmy, 2000), multiple morphological preverb configurations (Ralli 2004) that may function as satellites, as well as complex Manner-first syntactic patterns (Soroli 2012).
The present comparative study: (i) examines whether such cross- and within-system variation has any impact on the ways in which speakers encode verbally and conceptualize mentally crucial aspects of motion, and (ii) addresses current debates in the literature concerning the relationship between Language and Though (Papafragou et al. 2008, Soroli 2011, Engemann et al. 2015).
In this context I examined how speakers of three typologically different languages, (English, French and Greek) performed several controlled tasks involving motion events: a production task (where participants had to describe visual scenes showing motion events), a non-verbal categorization task (where they had to group together visual stimuli of these events) and a verbal categorization task (where they had to decide which visual stimulus best fitted a sentence describing a motion event), all coupled with an eye-tracking paradigm for further insights on on-line cognitive processing. The results show that speakers are influenced by the patterns of their language when describing and categorizing motion events, however to a lesser extent when the task doesn’t involve explicitly language. In addition, attention allocation patterns capture well within-system variation suggesting that visual behaviour is based on both parallel universal (physiological/perceptual) and language-specific constraints, thus supporting a moderate view that allows for dynamic mutual interaction between discourse and cognitive factors.
Talmy, L. (1985). Lexicalization patterns: Semantic structure in lexical forms. In T. Shopen (Ed.), Language typology and lexical description: Vol. 3. Grammatical categories and the lexicon, 36-149. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Talmy, L. (2000). Toward a cognitive semantics. Volume 1: Concept structuring systems. Volume 2: Typology and process in concept structuring. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Slobin, D. I. (2006). What makes manner of motion salient? Explorations in linguistic typology, discourse, and cognition. In M. Hickmann & S. Robert (Eds.), Space across languages: linguistic systems and cognitive categories, 59–81. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Matsumoto, Y. (2013). Typologies of lexicalization patterns and event integration: clarifications and reformulations. In Shuji Chiba et al. eds., Empirical and theoretical investigations into language: a Festschrift for Masaru Kajita, 403-418. Tokyo: Kaitakusha.
Papafragou, A., Massey, C., & Gleitman, L. (2006). When English proposes what Greek presupposes: The linguistic encoding of motion events. Cognition, 98, B75–B87.
Papafragou A, Hulbert J, Trueswell, J. (2008) Does language guide event perception? Evidence from eye movements. Cognition, 108: 155-184.
Ralli, A. (2004). Stem-based versus word-based morphological configurations: The case of Modern Greek preverbs. Lingue e Linguaggiο, 2, 241-275.
Soroli, E. (2011). Language and spatial cognition in French and in English: Crosslinguistic perspectives in aphasia. Ph.D. thesis, Paris, University of Paris 8.
Soroli, E. (2012). Variation in spatial language and cognition: exploring visuo-spatial thinking and speaking cross-linguistically. Cognitive Processing, 13(1), 333-337.
Soroli, E. & Verkerk, A. (in press). Motion events and synchronic variation in Greek: Theoretical and methodological issues.
Engemann, H., Hendriks, H., Hickmann, M., Soroli, E. & Vincent, C. (2015). How language impacts memory of motion events in English and French. Cognitive Processing, 16 (1), 209-213