LINGUIST List 25.3647

Thu Sep 18 2014

Diss: Indo-European; Historical Ling, Text/Corpus Ling, Typology: Verkerk: 'The Evolutionary Dynamics of Motion Event Encoding'

Editor for this issue: Danuta Allen <>

Date: 18-Sep-2014
From: Annemarie Verkerk <>
Subject: The Evolutionary Dynamics of Motion Event Encoding
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Institution: Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen
Program: Centre for Language Studies
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2014

Author: Annemarie Verkerk

Dissertation Title: The Evolutionary Dynamics of Motion Event Encoding

Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
                            Text/Corpus Linguistics
Language Family(ies): Indo-European

Dissertation Director:
Fiona Jordan
Stephen Curtis Levinson
Michael Dunn

Dissertation Abstract:

This dissertation presents a quantitative study of diachronic change in the typology of motion event encoding in the Indo-European language family. It aims to describe the diverse set of constructions and verb lexicons used to encode motion and analyze their emergence and change using comparative phylogenetic methods. The basis of the study is a parallel corpus of translated motion events from three literary works: Alice’s adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and what Alice found there, both by Lewis Carroll, and O Alquimista by Paulo Coelho. Included in this parallel corpus are twenty Indo-European languages (French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian [Romance], Irish [Celtic], Dutch, English, German, Swedish [Germanic], Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Russian, Serbo-Croatian [Balto-Slavic], Hindi, Nepali, Persian [Indo-Iranian], Modern Greek [Hellenic], Albanian, and Armenian). These twenty languages are highly diverse in their usage of the nine different motion construction types that were distinguished. These differences could be captured best on a continuous scale, with languages using the satellite-framed construction most often on one end, and languages using the verb-framed construction most often on the other end.
Phylogenetic comparative methods were used to make inferences about proto-languages, correlations between different features, and rates of change. First, an ancestral state estimation analysis was conducted to test the hypothesis that Proto-Indo-European was satellite-framed and behaved similarly to the Germanic languages, as has been proposed in the literature. The results showed that Proto-Indo-European is more likely to be similar to languages that can be found closer to the middle of the continuous scale, such as Modern Greek, than has been previously thought. Next, phylogenetically controlled correlation analyses showed that there is a relationship between the usage of certain motion constructions and the motion verb lexicon: satellite-framed languages have a larger class of manner verbs, and verb-framed languages have a larger class of path verbs. Further investigation demonstrated that the rate at which these two verb classes are evolving differs depending on differences in motion construction usage in the different subgroups of the Indo-European language family.
The dissertation also incorporates more traditional aspects of historical linguistics, including a literature review of the behaviour of ancient Indo-European languages such as Latin and Sanskrit, as well as an etymological study. These indicated that the process through which the ancient Indo-European preverbs merged with verb roots is of immense importance to explain both differences in motion construction usage as well as differences in path verb lexicon size. While no evidence for an influential role for areal patterns was found, it seemed clear that contact between South European languages on the one hand and North-Central European languages on the other has played a role in creating and maintaining the diversity found in motion encoding the Indo-European language family.

Page Updated: 18-Sep-2014