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Learning to express motion events in English and Korean: The influence of language-specific lexicalization patterns


Bowerman,  Melissa
Language Acquisition Group, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Choi, S., & Bowerman, M. (1991). Learning to express motion events in English and Korean: The influence of language-specific lexicalization patterns. Cognition, 41, 83-121. doi:10.1016/0010-0277(91)90033-Z.

English and Korean differ in how they lexicalize the components of motionevents. English characteristically conflates Motion with Manner, Cause, or Deixis, and expresses Path separately. Korean, in contrast, conflates Motion with Path and elements of Figure and Ground in transitive clauses for caused Motion, but conflates motion with Deixis and spells out Path and Manner separately in intransitive clauses for spontaneous motion. Children learningEnglish and Korean show sensitivity to language-specific patterns in the way they talk about motion from as early as 17–20 months. For example, learners of English quickly generalize their earliest spatial words — Path particles like up, down, and in — to both spontaneous and caused changes of location and, for up and down, to posture changes, while learners of Korean keep words for spontaneous and caused motion strictly separate and use different words for vertical changes of location and posture changes. These findings challenge the widespread view that children initially map spatial words directly to nonlinguistic spatial concepts, and suggest that they are influenced by the semantic organization of their language virtually from the beginning. We discuss how input and cognition may interact in the early phases of learning to talk about space.