Massey, Christine

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  • Publication
    Shake, rattle, 'n' roll: The representation of motion in language and cognition
    (2001-01-01) Papafragou, Anna; Massey, Christine; Gleitman, Lila
    Languages vary strikingly in how they encode motion events. In some languages (e.g. English), manner of motion is typically encoded within the verb, while direction of motion information appears in modifiers. In other languages (e.g. Greek), the verb usually encodes the direction of motion, while the manner information is encoded in modifiers. We designed two studies to investigate whether these language-specific patterns affect speakers’ reasoning about motion. We compared the performance of English and Greek children and adults (a) in non-linguistic (memory and categorization) tasks involving motion events, and (b) in their linguistic descriptions of these same motion events. Even though the two linguistic groups differed significantly in terms of their linguistic preferences, their performance in the non-linguistic tasks was identical. More surprisingly, the linguistic descriptions given by subjects within language also failed to correlate consistently with their memory and categorization performance in the relevant regards. For the domain studied, these results are consistent with the view that conceptual development and organization are largely independent of language-specific labeling practices. The discussion emphasizes that the necessarily sketchy nature of speech assures that it will be at best a crude index of thought.