Vigo International Journal of Applied Linguistics VIAL

Raphael Berthele (1). When bilinguals forget their manners. Language dominance and motion event descriptions in French and German. VIAL Number 14/2017: 39:70.


The study of motion verbs has yielded evidence for typological differences among the languages of the world. Whereas in some languages, such as French or Spanish, the path of motion is mapped onto the verb, the typical motion verb in languages such as English or German expresses the manner of motion. However, these distinctions suggest not categories, but rather clines. Moreover, there is considerable intra-language variation. In this paper, an attempt is made to investigate the question whether bilingualism and more specifically the dominance relationship between the bilinguals' languages explain variation in motion event descriptions. Motion event descriptions in German and French were elicited. The data from 172 participants describing self-propelled motion in space are analyzed. Inferential statistical analyses show that the number of manner verbs used in the German data rises with increasing German dominance of the speaker. No effects of dominance are found in French. Moreover, the combination of finite manner verbs with the predication of boundary-crossing in both languages co-varies with language dominance: the more German is dominant in the repertoire, the more this combination can be observed.

Keywords: Motion events, bilingualism, bilingual dominance, convergence, boundary-crossing constraint

(1) Université de Fribourg, Switzerland.

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