What is it about?

How humans perceive the motion of a moving object and use language to express such motion has long been a topic of interest. In this paper, we specifically look at motion events that involve an object arriving at an endpoint. Based on data from three genealogically unrelated languages, we theorize how such motion is conceptually represented in the mind and how it is linguistically encoded.

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Why is it important?

Our theory is unique because it distinguishes between path and direction, two notions that are usually conflated in other studies. This distinction gives us a principled way to predict what linguistic element in a sentence (e.g., a noun phrase or a verb) can lead to a telic interpretation, i.e., a reading that the event described by the sentence has come to an end. Furthermore, we demonstrate that our theory applies to three genealogically unrelated languages with very different grammars, suggesting the principles we have identified may be deeply rooted in our spatial and linguistic cognition.


I hope this paper can provide some food for thought for anyone interested in how our linguistic capacity interacts with other cognitive abilities. I believe research in this area is fundamental not only to a better understanding of the workings of our minds, but also to the future development of AI systems that can genuinely and reliably interpret human language.

Pin-Hsi Chen
The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen

For me, this work is particularly intriguing because it allows us to see how languages that are genetically unrelated can share core features that help us understand the inner workings of how humans encode their thoughts in the linguistic vehicles available to them.

Kwaku O. A. Osei-Tutu
University of Ghana

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: A cross-linguistic syntactic analysis of telicity in motion predicates in Southern Tati, Mandarin, and Ghanaian Student Pidgin, Studies in Language, January 2023, John Benjamins,
DOI: 10.1075/sl.22014.che.
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