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ven. 16/02/2018 Séminaire DTT - Atelier Typologie sémantique
Clément Voirin (DDL)
ISH - Ennat Léger

A review of Michel Aurnague’s article How motion verbs are spatial: the spatial foundations of intransitive motion verbs in French (2011)

Research on motion verbs have always struggled with establishing classifications that succeed in representing the spatial semantic features of these predicates according to clear-cut and consensual linguistic criteria (cf. Ikegami, 1969; Talmy, 1985; Boons, 1987; Levin, 1993). These predicates can be characterized by various features related to dimensions of motion such as path (i.e. source, goal, direction), manner (e.g. speed, fear, vehicle) and (a)telicity) which often conflate together (e.g. escape (source+manner+telicity), alight (goal+manner+telicity), advance (direction+atelicity)). Such features have been largely highlighted by studies that examine motion verbs at the interface between semantics and syntax (cf. Gruber, 1965; Jackendoff, 1983, 1990; Talmy, 1985, 2000; Levin, 1993). The difficulty of analyzing these predicates mostly comes from the fact that they usually co-occur with other lexical and grammatical morphemes (e.g. satellites, adpositions, case markers) to construe the meaning of motion (cf. Sinha & Kuteva, 1995). The lack of consensus on the definitions of spatial features (i.e. place, location, path, manner, direction) and the difficulty of understanding how different features interact together have led to classifications of motion verbs that are either too general (cf. Talmy, 1985) or too heterogeneous (cf. Ikegami, 1969).

Using Aurnague’s theoretical framework (2011) and following his analysis (but see also Boons (1987), Aurnague & Stosic (2002), Stosic (2002, 2007, 2009)), we will focus on the spatial features underlying the meaning of French intransitive verbs of motion. In the first part of this talk, we will look at some semantic-syntactic tests that are useful for distinguishing path verbs and manner verbs. In the second part of the talk, we will look at the lexical-semantic structure of path verbs to investigate the spatial and aspectual criteria that distinguish them.


AURNAGUE, M. 2011. How motion verbs are spatial: the spatial foundations of intransitive motion verbs in French. Lingvisticae Investigationes 34(1): 1-34. Amsterdam-Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

AURNAGUE, M. & STOSIC, D. 2002. La préposition par et l’expression du déplacement: vers une caractérisation sémantique et cognitive de la notion de “trajet”. Cahiers de Lexicologie 81: 113-139.

BOONS, J.P. 1987. La notion sémantique de déplacement dans une classification syntaxique des verbes locatifs. Langue Française 76: 5-40.

GRUBER, J.S. 1965. Studies in lexical relations. PhD dissertation, M.I.T.

IKEGAMI, Y. 1969. The semological structure of the English verbs of motion. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University. JACKENDOFF, R. 1983. Semantics and cognition. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The M.I.T. Press.

JACKENDOFF, R. 1990. Semantic structures. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The M.I.T. Press.

LEVIN, B. 1993. English verb classes and alternations: a preliminary investigation. Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press.

SINHA, C. & KUTEVA, T. 1995. Distributed Spatial Semantics. Nordic Journal of Linguistics 18: 167-199.

STOSIC, D. 2002. Par et à travers dans l’expression des relations spatiales : comparaison entre le français et le serbo-croate. PhD dissertation, University of Toulouse-Le Mirail.

STOSIC, D. 2007. The prepositions par and à travers and the categorization of spatial entities in French. In M. Aurnague, L. Hickmann & L. Vieu (eds.), The categorization of spatial entities in language and cognition, Amsterdam-Philadelphia: John Benjamins. 71-91.

STOSIC, D. 2009. Comparaison du sens spatial des prépositions à travers en français et kroz en serbe. Langages 173: 15-33.

TALMY, L. 1985. Lexicalization patterns: semantic structure in lexical form. In T.Shopen (ed.), Linguistic Typology and Syntactic Description: Grammatical Categories and the Lexicon (vol. 3). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 57-149.

TALMY, L. 2000. Toward a Cognitive Semantics: Concept Structuring Systems (vol. 1). Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.



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