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Review of  New Approaches to Slavic Verbs of Motion

Reviewer: Stephen Spencer Robinson
Book Title: New Approaches to Slavic Verbs of Motion
Book Author: Victoria Hasko Renee Perelmutter
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Semantics
Language Family(ies): Slavic Subgroup
Issue Number: 22.1834

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EDITORS: Hasko, Victoria and Perelmutter, Renee
TITLE: New Approaches to Slavic Verbs of Motion
SERIES: Studies in Language Companion Series (115)
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing Company
YEAR: 2010

S. Spencer Robinson, The Ohio State University


''New Approaches to Slavic Verbs of Motion'' is a compilation of 15 articles
dealing with various aspects of motion verbs in Slavic languages, with the
primary emphasis on Russian, which is understandable since Russian has the most
speakers of any Slavic language. The articles are geared towards linguists
interested in motion verbs from a variety of perspectives: diachronic,
theoretical, typological, comparative, cognitive, and acquisitional. One does
not need to be a Slavist or even know Slavic languages to find these articles
useful since they all explain the phenomena they discuss well.

In their introduction, Hasko and Perelmutter state that they compiled this
volume to provide ''a collection of interdisciplinary studies investigating how
motion is expressed within the Slavic language family'' (2). After discussing how
common motion verbs in Slavic languages have been studied extensively due to
their idiosyncratic behavior, Hasko and Perelmutter state that they put this
book together ''to unify a wide breadth of recent studies examining Slavic motion
talk from multiple points of view'' (3) since such research is often scattered
across a variety of publications, is written in various languages, and can be
outdated or difficult to locate. They then point to the two main aims of their
work: ''accounting for unique semantic and syntactic properties of Slavic motion
verbs... [and] situating Slavic languages within the larger typological
framework'' (3).

The articles in this volume are organized into three parts: ''Diachrony of Motion
Expressions'', which examines how structures expressing motion evolved from
Proto-Slavic to the present; ''Synchronic Approaches to Aspect'', which discusses
how motion verbs fit into the modern Russian aspectual system; and ''Typological
Approach to the Study of Slavic Verbs of Motion'', which shows how motion verbs
in Slavic languages fit into the bigger linguistic picture.

For those who are unfamiliar with motion expressions in Slavic languages, it is
important to know a little about verbs of motion in these languages to
understand some of the arguments in this compilation. The eastern branch
(Russian, Ukrainian, Belorussian) and the western branch (Polish, Czech, Slovak,
etc.) of this linguistic family have pairs of motion verbs that have the same
basic meaning, but differ in that each one expresses a different directionality.
This directionality can be 'determinate' or 'indeterminate'. Determinate verbs
(also known as 'unidirectional') express motion in a single direction, while
indeterminate verbs (also known as 'multidirectional') convey ''movement in more
than one direction, movement in general, habitual action, [or] return journeys''
(Wade 2000:345). For example, Russian has the paired motion verbs ezdit'/ exat'
'to go by vehicle.' The former verb is the multidirectional form and the latter,
the unidirectional form. The distinction between these two verbs is illustrated
in (1) and (2) (examples provided by reviewer).

Ja ezžu v Boston
I go by vehicle.INDETERM to Boston
'I go to Boston (often, repeatedly).'

Ja edu v Boston
I go by vehicle.DETERM to Boston
'I am going to Boston (right now).'

In (1) the meaning of the indeterminate verb implies repeated trips, while the
determinate verb in (2) focuses on motion in a single direction. Although much
more can be said about the opposition in directionality between such paired
motion verbs, this description is sufficient for the purpose of discussing the
articles in this volume.

In addition to understanding directionality, it is also important to understand
some of Talmy's (1985, 1991, 2000) research. He divides languages into two types
based on how they specify instances of motion: 'verb-framed languages' and
'satellite-framed languages'. Languages that encode manner in the verb and path
in a preposition or adverb are satellite-framed (or 'S-languages'). In her own
article within this book, Hasko (199) uses the Russian example in (3) to
illustrate such a construction.

Kot kradetsja v komnatu.
cat sneaks.MANNER in.PATH room
'The cat is sneaking into the room.'

In (3) we see that kradetsja 'sneaks' shows the manner that the motion is
envisioned, while the related preposition is used to specify the path. Russian,
Polish (and the other Slavic languages), and English are S-languages.

Languages such as French and Spanish are verb-framed languages ('V-languages').
V-languages use the verb to encode path, while manner is encoded outside the
verb. Hasko's (199) French example is shown in (4).

Le chat est sorti de la pièce (en courant).
The cat exited.PATH the room (by running.MANNER)
'The cat ran out of the room.'

In (4) we see the path expressed in the verb, while the manner is optionally
shown in an adjacent phrase.

I turn now to the articles in each of the sections of this book.

Diachrony of Motion Expressions

Sarah Turner's article ''Clause and Text Organization in Early East Slavic with
Reference to Motion and Positional Expressions'' argues that trying to impose
modern views on clause and text patterns does not aid the researcher in trying
to uncover the syntactic patterns that existed in Early East Slavic manuscripts
because the patterns in Early East Slavic differ too much from the modern
counterparts to be comparable. She argues that by looking at clausal pragmatic
structures and ''specific features of textual cohesion, foregrounding and
backgrounding'' (44) within those clauses, one can gain more than by looking at
''elusive pseudo-functional descriptions'' (44).

''Indeterminate Motion Verbs Are Denominal'' by Johanna Nichols reevaluates the
diachronic source for the indeterminate (non-unidirectional) verbs of motion in
Slavic, concluding that they derive from nouns, not verbs. Although they may
have originated from causatives, she argues that they were reanalyzed when the
Slavic verbal lexicon as a whole shifted to a noun-based system. Nichols
additionally notes that indeterminate verbs derive their semantics from the
denominal formation.

''Common Slavic 'Indeterminate' Verbs of Motion Were Really Manner-of-Motion
Verbs'' by Stephen M. Dickey provides an alternative explanation of the nature of
indeterminate verbs of motion in Common Slavic. Scholars have noted that
indeterminate verbs occur in East and West Slavic manuscripts in positions where
a determinate verb would be expected. Dickey accounts for this discrepancy by
arguing that in Common Slavic the modern indeterminate verbs were actually
manner of motion verbs. He also claims that these verbs lost their ability to
express determinate motion due to the role of prefixation in marking aspect
among verbs of motion. Dickey hypothesizes that Common Slavic iti 'go' had a
general meaning and it came to be paired with Common Slavic xoditi 'walk', which
was an important step in the development of paired verbs of motion.

In his paper ''PIE Inheritance and Word-Formational Innovation in Slavic Motion
Verbs in -i-,'' Marc Greenberg traces the development of unprefixed indeterminate
verbs of motion that have a present tense with -i- from PIE to Balto-Slavic and
Proto-Slavic. He argues that some of these verbs show a ''direct continuation'' of
PIE forms (e.g., PIE *wodh-eye- > Proto-Slavic *vod-i 'lead' > Russian vodit'
'lead', Czech vodit 'lead') and some evidence innovation during Balto-Slavic
(e.g., PIE *bhegw- appears to be the predecessor of Proto-Slavic *běg-ě- 'flee';
later 'run' due to Winter's law and a semantic shift) and the Slavic periods. Of
particular note in this paper is the etymology that shows compounding of verbal
stems in the verb *ja- 'travel' + -sd- 'sit' = jazd-i-ti 'ride' (cf. Greenberg
and Dickey 2006), that took place during the Slavic period.

Synchronic Approaches to Aspect

Laura Janda's chapter ''Perfectives from Indeterminate Motion Verbs in Russian''
tackles apparent exceptions found in the Russian aspectual system among verbs of
motion (e.g., sometimes prefixes added to indeterminate verbs of motion yield
perfective verbs instead of the expected imperfective). Janda uses a key
distinction in her cluster model, Completability, or the idea that if an action
continues it will reach its natural conclusion (cf. Janda 2007) to account for
these apparent discrepancies and unify the aspectual categories of verbs of
motion and non-verbs of motion. She shows that verbs of motion behave just as
non-motion verbs do. Although ''indeterminate motion verbs express
Non-completable situations'' (126), they are used to construct prefixed
perfective verbs when they refer to beginning an activity or engaging in the
activity for a short time, as well as when they express ''a single cycle of a
series of repeated actions that are conceptualized as identical'' (128).

In ''Aspects of Motion: On the Semantics and Pragmatics of Indeterminate Aspect,''
Olga Kagan seeks to unite the multiple usages that an indeterminate verb
entails. She argues against selecting iterativity as the function that links
indeterminate aspect since it does not signify event repetition. Instead she
argues that indeterminacy is an identity function and that restrictions on
indeterminate verbs are not semantically, but pragmatically motivated. Thus
pragmatic and semantic principles play a role in aspect.

Renee Perelmutter's ''Verbs of Motion under Negation in Modern Russia'' argues
that clauses containing negated verbs of motion generally have much less detail
regarding manner of motion and path of motion than their affirmative
counterparts. She also contends that the common assumption that imperfective
verbs are more common under negation is not correct; the situation depends on
whether the verb is prefixed or simplex. In the case of prefixed verbs of
motion, the perfective is significantly more frequent than the imperfective. She
notes that perfective verbs of motion indicating goal and origin appear when
there is ''thwarted expectation'' (185), while imperfective verbs occur when there
is ''sustained non-arrival'' (185) at the destination. However, in simplex verbs
the situation is more complex. Determinate imperfective verbs of motion are used
much less than imperfective indeterminate and perfective verbs. The latter two
categories flip-flop in terms of how often they are used under negation
depending on the verb of motion studied (this is due to the fact that verbs such
as the simplex perfective verb pojti 'to go' occurs in many set collocations and
thus makes the perfective more common than the indeterminate imperfective idti
'to go'). She concludes that aspectual choice for verbs of motion depends on
''the spatial relations between the moving figure and an observer of motion at
goal or origin of the motion trajectory'' (163).

Typological Approach to the Study of Slavic Verbs of Motion

In ''Semantic Composition of Motion Verbs in Russian and English: The Case of
Intra-Typological Variability,'' Victoria Hasko argues that although Russian (an
East Slavic language) and English are both satellite-framed languages it is
important to compare them to understand better the variability that exists
within satellite-framed languages. Her findings indicate that there is a great
degree of variability between Russian and English in regards to frequency of use
and the semantic complexity of the motion event (the Russian corpus showed more
semantic complexity and more types and tokens of motion verbs than the English one).

''Motion Events in Polish: Lexicalization Patterns and the Description of Manner''
by Anetta Kopecka continues the topic of variability within satellite-framed
languages by contrasting Polish (a West Slavic language) and English. She finds
that Polish does not have as many types of manner-of-motion verbs as English
does, and there are more restrictions in Polish for path satellites to combine
with the motion verbs. Polish gets around these restrictions by using adverbs
and nominal and prepositional expressions.

Luna Filipović's ''The Importance of Being a Prefix: Prefixal Morphology and the
Lexicalization of Motion Events in Serbo-Croatian'' discusses how motion
experiences are encoded in motion expressions. She argues that Serbo-Croatian
patterns somewhere between a verb-framed language and a satellite-framed
language. In Serbo-Croatian, verbs expressing path (she terms them 'directional
verbs') are the most frequent choice when expressing motion events, which is
similar to the verb-framed language model, but manner verbs are more frequent in
Serbo-Croatian than in other verb-framed languages, so it patterns like a
satellite-framed language as well. Filipović also discusses the role of
prefixes, morphological blocking and what she terms 'combinatory potential' to
describe why manner of motion verbs cannot occur in all expressions of motion
like they can in English.

In ''Variation in the Encoding of Endpoints of Motion in Russian,'' Tatiana
Nikitina looks at the differences between directional and locational
prepositional phrases serving as endpoints after change of state verbs. She
argues that directional meaning is used when a change in location co-occurs with
a change in state. When a locational prepositional phrase is used, a change in
location can be surmised, but it is left unexpressed. Thus, this accounts for
the fact that both prepositional and locative phrases can occur after such verbs.

The aim of ''Verbs of Rotation in Russian and Polish'' by Ekaterina Rakhilina is
to document semantic variation between cognates and non-cognates of verbs
expressing rotation (e.g., 'spin', 'rotate', etc.) in Polish and Russian. She
demonstrates that there are large differences in the semantics between verbs in
these languages in terms of which categories are relevant for which language
(speed of rotation is salient in Polish, but not in Russian, while Russian
focuses on controlled and uncontrolled motion), thus highlighting differences
between these two related Slavic languages.

In ''Aquamotion Verbs in Slavic and Germanic: A Case Study in Lexical Typology,''
Maria Koptjevskaja-Tamm, Dagmar Divjak, and Ekaterina V. Rakhilina look at how
the semantics of aquamotion (e.g., the notions of sailing, swimming, floating,
etc.) are divided between verbs in Russian, Polish, Swedish, English, and Dutch.
This is another study dealing with variability within satellite-framed
languages. Koptjevskaja-Tamm et al. find that the Germanic languages discussed
in this study use activity/passivity of motion as a basis for dividing up the
conceptual space between aquamotion verbs, while the Slavic languages use
directionality to do so. The authors also point out that despite these
intrafamily similarities, there are still significant differences between
closely related languages that need to be studied within lexical typology.

Tore Nesset's ''Metaphorical Walking: Russian Idti as a Generalized Motion Verb''
argues that Russian idti 'to go, walk' is used in metaphorical movement because
it expresses prototypical movement in humans. He also concludes that it appears
in so many contexts where there is a motion goal because it is unidirectional

Kira Gor, Svetlana Cook, Vera Malyshenkova, and Tatyana Vdovina are the authors
of the final article in this volume, ''Russian Verbs of Motion: Second Language
Acquisition and Cognitive Linguistics Perspectives''. Gor et al. investigate
differences in acquiring Russian motion verbs among learners of Russian at the
college level (both heritage speakers and non-heritage speakers of Russian).
Since Russian and English are both satellite-framed languages, Gor et al.
investigated whether acquiring Russian verbs of motion was comparably difficult
for those who began learning Russian early (i.e., heritage speakers) and late
(non-heritage speakers). This research supports prior claims that Russian verbs
of motion are not fully acquired even among highly proficient L2 speakers, but
heritage speakers tend to be more proficient than non-heritage speakers in most
categories of their acquisition.


Hasko and Perelmutter write that the aims of this volume are to account for the
syntactic and semantic properties that are unique to Slavic verbs of motion and
to describe how Slavic languages fit within the typology of world languages (3),
and they do indeed fulfill these two goals as I shall describe in the following

Accounting for Unique Properties of Slavic Verbs of Motion

Andersen (2006:249) discussed how we do not know much about the history of the
determinate/indeterminate distinction in Slavic when he wrote, ''[W]e can only
speculate on its status before the rise of the Perfective vs. Imperfective
aspect distinction''. Dickey's article shows us a plausible way in which verbs of
motion came to be paired in the determinate/indeterminate relationships, which
takes us a step closer towards elucidating this question. Additionally, Nichols
and Greenberg also both add to the body of knowledge on how the modern verbs of
motion developed, thus helping linguists better understand the diachronic
history of motion verbs.

Janda's and Kagan's research bring unity to disparate view of sections of the
Russian verbal system. Janda's analysis is particularly helpful because it
explains how the apparent exceptional behavior of verbs of motion in regard to
prefixation is not enigmatic, but rather conforms to the same criteria that
determine perfectivity or imperfectivity in the verbal paradigm as a whole. This
approach is very satisfying because it unifies the behavior of all verbs.
Instead of looking at verbs of motion as being different from other verbs,
Janda's article shows that they do indeed behave the same as verbs in general.

Perelmutter's work argues against prior claims that imperfective verbs tend to
occur under negation more than affirmative ones. Her work shows that at least
among verbs of motion, the situation is much more complex. Her work also
underscores the need for further research to get a complete picture of verbal
behavior under negation in Slavic.

Describing the Typology of Slavic Languages from a Cross-Linguistic Perspective

In the section ''Typological Approach to the Study of Slavic Verbs of Motion,''
chapters 8-13 all take Talmy's (1985, 1991, 2000) distinction between
verb-framed languages and satellite-framed languages as their starting point and
then go on to discuss how there is great diversity even within satellite-framed
languages. The articles show that there are major differences in how motion is
expressed in English and Russian, even though they are both satellite languages,
and even between Russian and Polish, which are both satellite-framed and Slavic
languages. Also, Filipović shows that Serbo-Croatian falls somewhere between
these distinctions. This discussion of typology shows that although Talmy's
(1985, 1991, 2000) satellite and verb-framed languages created a way to divide
languages in terms of how their motion verb systems are organized, there is
still much typological work within each of these divisions to be done to
understand each category better and to see where languages belong in this
division, and whether further subdivisions are necessary.

In addition to fulfilling the aims of the editors, the articles also provide
other information. Perelmutter's article ''Verbs of Motion under Negation in
Modern Russian'' argues convincingly for using the web as a corpus (as opposed to
specially created corpora) to reflect actual language use.

Filipović and Gor et al. discuss different languages and phenomena, but both
their articles deserve attention for the light that they shine on difficulties
in the acquision of Slavic languages by English speakers. Language teachers can
use the information contained in their papers to design better exercises and
strategies to overcome these problems in second language learning.

One minor issue with this volume is that Turner's article ''Clause and Text
Organization in Early East Slavic with Reference to Motion and Position
Expressions'' does not seem to be well integrated with the rest of the articles.
It is somewhat peculiar that her article is included in this collection since it
does not directly discuss motion verbs, but rather focuses on clause and text
organization in early East Slavic. She does examine clauses that have verbs of
motion, but her research is focused elsewhere. I do not think that Turner's work
is unworthy to be in this volume; Turner does an excellent job of arguing that
modern conventions of text organization are of ''doubtful value in the study of
premodern material'' (15), but I am uncertain why the editors included this
particular work in this collection. However, this does not detract from the
overall worth of the volume.


Andersen, Henning. 2006. ''Grammation, Regrammation, and Degrammation: Tense Loss
in Russian. In Diachronica 23(2): 231-258.

Greenberg, Marc. L. and Stephen M. Dickey. 2006. ''Slavic *Jazditi 'to Ride' and
Its Implications for the Category of (In-)Determinacy.'' In Jezikovna predanost.
Akademiku prof. dr. Jožetu Toporišiču ob 80-letnici. M. Jesenšek and Z. Zorko
(Eds.). 153-158. Maribor: Slavistično društvo Maribor.

Janda, Laura A. 2007. ''Aspectual Clusters of Russian Verbs.'' Studies in Language

Talmy, Leonard. 1985. ''Lexicalization Patterns: Semantic Structure in Lexical
Forms.'' In Language Typology and Syntactic Descriptions, Vol. 3: Grammatical
Categories and the Lexicon. Timothy Shopen (Ed.). CUP: Cambridge. 57-149.

Talmy, Leonard. 1991. ''Path to Realization: A Typology of Event Conflation.
Proceedings of the Berkeley Linguistic Society 17:480-519.

Talmy, Leonard. 2000. Toward a Cognitive Semantics. Vol. I & II. Cambridge, MA:
MIT Press.

Wade, Terrence. 2000. A Comprehensive Russian Grammar. 2nd edn. Malden, MA:
Blackwell Publishing.

Spencer Robinson is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Slavic and East European Languages and Literatures at The Ohio State University. His research interests include Slavic languages, verbs of motion, corpus linguistics, diachronic linguistics, and negation.