How language impacts memory of motion events in English and French

Abstract

This paper examines whether cross-linguistic differences in motion encoding affect event processing, specifically memory performance. We compared speakers of two languages which differ strikingly in how they habitually encode Manner and Path of motion (Talmy in Toward a cognitive semantics: typology and process in concept structuring, 2nd edn, vol 2. MIT Press, Cambridge, 2000). We tested French and English adult native speakers across three tasks that recruited and/or suppressed verbal processing to different extents: verbal event descriptions elicited on the basis of dynamic motion stimuli, a verbal memory task testing the impact of prior verbalisation on target recognition, and a non-verbal memory task, using a dual-task paradigm to suppress internal verbalisation. Results showed significant group differences in the verbal description task, which mirrored expected typological tendencies. English speakers more frequently expressed both Manner and Path information than French speakers, who produced more descriptions encoding either Path or Manner alone. However, these differences in linguistic encoding did not significantly affect speakers’ memory performance in the memory recognition tasks, neither in the verbal nor in the non-verbal condition. The findings contribute to current debates regarding the conditions under which language effects occur and the relative weight of language-specific and universal constraints on spatial cognition.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    These results are based on verbal descriptions elicited in phase 1 of the verbal memory task, to avoid contamination by prior memorisation, as in the non-verbal memory task.

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Correspondence to Helen Engemann.

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Engemann, H., Hendriks, H., Hickmann, M. et al. How language impacts memory of motion events in English and French. Cogn Process 16, 209–213 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10339-015-0696-7

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Keywords

  • Spatial cognition
  • Cross-linguistic variation
  • Motion events
  • Memory
  • Language and thought