Children’s Verbalizations of Motion Events in German
Although a number of universal factors are responsible for the development of spatial representations, recent studies also show that language-specific properties have a strong influence on the organisation and structure of spatial representations. As a result, the relative impact of universal and language-specific factors on language acquisition is presently at the center of many debates.
The present study is based on Talmy’s assumption (1985) that speakers’ attention is directed to different aspects of reality depending on the lexicalization patterns of their mother tongue. He suggests a dual linguistic typology, whereby languages may be classified as “verb-framed” if they typically conflate Path in the verb (e.g. Romance languages) or as “satellite-framed” if they conflate Path in satellites (e.g. non-Romance Indo-European languages). Moreover, we wanted to test Slobin’s proposal (2003) that it should be easier to express information in a finite and frequently used verb form than by means of a peripheral phrase or subordinate clause. As a result, it should be easier for speakers to encode Manner and Path at the same time in a satellite-framed language than in a verb-framed language.
The sample of this study consists of monolingual German children aged 3 to 11 years and adults (5 age groups, 12 subjects in each group), who had to verbalize short animated cartoons consisting of different motion events. The results show that children from three years on encode both Manner and Path, by packaging Manner in the verb root and Path in particles. At all ages German children pay much attention to manner and use a wide spectrum of manner verbs. In addition, they combine these verbs with particles, which play an important role in German. Unlike prepositions (or prepositional phrases), particles do not require inflections and they are therefore easy for young children to use.
This pattern is consistent with the one reported in other satellite-framed languages such as English and quite different from the one reported in verb-framed languages such as Spanish or French (Slobin, 2003; Hickmann, in press).Our results therefore support the view that children construct the semantics of space in accordance with the language-specific characteristics of their mother tongue. In motion events that involve changes of location Manner is salient to children learning satellite-framed languages from an early age on.