Motion in Language and Experience : Actual and Non-actual motion in Swedish, French and Thai

University dissertation from The Faculties of Humanities and Theology

Abstract: This thesis deals with motion in language and non-linguistic experience, distinguishing between actual motion (AM) and non-actual motion (NAM). AM is the experience of continuous change in an object’s position, expressed in sentences such as 'The man runs through the forest' and 'The woman is walking'. NAM refers to dynamic qualities involved in conceiving or perceiving static situations and is expressed in sentences such as 'The road runs through the forest'. I investigate conceptual, theoretical and empirical issues such as the following: what is motion and what is the relationship between language and experience more generally? What kind of theory can account for the proper balance of universality and language-specificity in the expression of motion? How is motion expressed in different languages and what is the relation between expressions of AM and NAM? Insights from Husserlian phenomenology guide the investigations. With respect to AM, an experiential taxonomy of motion situations with three independent parameters is proposed. This taxonomy was used in an elicitation-based study with speakers of Swedish, French and Thai. The produced descriptions were analyzed according to the framework of Holistic Spatial Semantics, which assumes a set of semantic categories and claims that these are distributed across clauses and descriptions rather than being localized to a select few form classes, such as verbs and so-called satellites. The descriptions in the three languages conformed to the proposed universal semantic categories and the taxonomy of motion situations, at the same time as displaying language-specific properties. To differentiate between the different types of motion situations, the Swedish speakers used verbs, adverbs and prepositions, the French speakers mostly verbs and prepositions, and the Thai participants relied on serial-verb constructions. The speakers of the three languages also differed in the motion information typically expressed. For example, Swedish speakers tended to express both Manner and Path in the same clause; the French speakers focused on Path, and the Thai on Manner, Path and (viewpoint-centered) Direction. For NAM, a re-interpretation of several well-known analyses in Cognitive Linguistics was proposed. This was conducted in order to separate motivating experiences from conventional semantics and to study the interplay between the two. Inspired by phenomenology, I propose that NAM-sentences are motivated by different kinds of experiences, including enactive perception, mental scanning and imagining. An elicitation-based study with pictures representing static linear extensions was conducted with speakers of the same three languages. All pictures followed a two-by-two design: the object either afforded human motion or did not (e.g. road vs. fence). The perspective was from a first-person point of view, as if standing on or next to the object, or that of a distant observer. For the three languages, all four picture types elicited NAM-descriptions, but mostly for the condition First-person+Afford motion. This showed that enactive perception is a potent motivation in the production of NAM-sentences. Even if the speakers behaved similarly in this respect, the descriptions conformed to the general patterns for expressing actual motion in the respective language, shown in the first part of the thesis.