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Conceptualization in process: Motion event processing in English and French


This paper presents a cross-linguistic study in progress that uses eye-tracking techniques to investigate how language-specific properties affect cognition. The motion domain shows systematic cross-linguistic variation in how frequently the semantic dimensions of PATH and MANNER are expressed and what linguistic means are used to encode them (inside vs. outside the main verb). Talmy (2000) captures this variation in his proposed dichotomous typology of satellite-framing (SF) vs. verb-framing (VF) languages: Whilst English speakers (SF) typically verbalize both PATH and MANNER together (e.g. ‘He ran across the street’), French speakers (VF) by default focus more on Path alone, which is typically expressed in the main verb (e.g. Il a traversé la rue – He crossed the road) whereas MANNER is often either omitted or encoded in peripheral constructions, such as gerunds (e.g. en courant – by/whilst running). The question as to whether these differences have a deeper cognitive impact going beyond language use has been approached from various angles in the past years, including the perspective of language acquisition and the so-called thinking-for-speaking approach (Slobin 1996). These approaches have generated significant progress in our understanding of how language-specific differences have long-lasting effects on first, second and bilingual language acquisition, and on on-line speech production processes. However, they nevertheless constitute only indirect evidence for the cognitive depth of language-specific variation, since they amount to showing us only how language patterns affect our language use. Few studies to date have tapped into non-verbal cognitive measures (e.g. Athanasopoulous 2013) to investigate whether a reliable correlation between linguistic and cognitive representations can be established. Furthermore, if language-specific properties are found to impact non-linguistic cognition, when and how do these differences arise in children’s event processing? In order to address these questions, we tested English and French adults (N = 150) and children (N = 100) in two age groups (7 and 11 yrs) across two tasks: (i) a categorization task and (ii) a memory task, each of which was administered either in a verbal condition (by prior verbalization) or a non-verbal condition (articulatory suppression), to which participants were assigned randomly. All tasks were coupled with remote eye-tracking (Tobii X120). In contrast to classic Visual World paradigms, our stimuli consisted of naturalistic videos showing human agents moving in different ways (e.g. run, cycle) along different trajectories (e.g. up, into, across). The prediction was that, in line with typology, English participants would attend more to MANNER than French speakers, reflected in both verbal and non-verbal measures. That is, English speakers should express MANNER more often in their event descriptions, but should also (i) use MANNER more frequently as a categorization criterion, and (ii) remember it better than French speakers. With respect to (iii) gaze patterns, we expected greater visual attention to the MANNER-relevant zones of interest (such as agents’ legs), translating into more fixations. Preliminary results suggest a weak effect of language on some, but not all aspects of cognition. We discuss the significance of these findings and the particular methodological challenges of analyzing eye-tracking data using dynamic stimuli.
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Dates and versions

halshs-01293405 , version 1 (05-08-2016)
halshs-01293405 , version 2 (08-08-2016)


  • HAL Id : halshs-01293405 , version 2


Helen Engemann, Coralie Vincent, Efstathia Soroli, Maya Hickmann. Conceptualization in process: Motion event processing in English and French. 3rd AttLis workshop "The Attentive Listener in the Visual World", Mar 2016, Potsdam, Germany. . ⟨halshs-01293405v2⟩
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