Motion verbs in English and Spanish

A crosslinguistic study on the semantics of motion verbs in English and Spanish. By Paula Cifuentes-Férez.(LINCOM studies in semantics 1.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2009. Pp. 305. ISBN 9783929075076. $98.28.

Reviewed by Louisa Buckingham, Sabanci University Writing Center, Turkey

This monograph investigates the semantics of verbs of motion in Spanish and English. Paula Cifuentes-Férez limits herself to self-agentive and non-agentive motion verbs, which are inherently intransitive in nature. The study seeks to answer specific questions concerning the encoding of semantic notions in motion verbs in each language, such as path and manner. Consisting of six chapters, C’s main contribution is in Ch. 5. Following the introduction in Ch. 1, Chs. 2–4 provide an overview of research into verbs of motion in semantics.

Ch. 2 outlines the theoretical background of cognitive linguistics, cognitive semantics, and conceptual semantics, with particular attention to Leonard Talmy’s work (Toward a cognitive semantics, vols. 1 and 2, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000). Ch. 3 provides an overview of research influenced by the Talmian theory of lexical patterns for motion events and includes a survey of linguistic relativity research. Ch. 4 examines different approaches to analyzing and classifying motion verbs. C reviews how this classification has been done in earlier research and by a variety of online data bases for English and Spanish lexicons (e.g. Adesse, FrameNet, and WordNet). The broad review of the literature provided in these three chapters will likely serve as useful introductory reference material to graduate students studying motion verb semantics.

Ch. 5 explores the semantics of English and Spanish verbs of motion. One of the chapter’s objectives is to test the hypothesis that satellite-framed and verb-framed languages (such as English and Spanish) appear to possess approximately the same number of path verbs. Additionally, C attempts to analyze whether manner verbs in the two languages encode the same level of detail. C begins her research by investigating which semantic notions are conflated in English and Spanish motion verbs, and then determining the types of semantic detail encoded in path verbs in the two languages. Her results show that path verbs tend to form a closed lexical category, but the Spanish path verb lexicon seems to be larger than that of English. C accounts for this in two ways. First,  there may be a higher number of path verbs in Spanish that encode specific details and are restricted to specific contexts (e.g. pirarse ‘to leave’) or certain figures (zarpar ‘to set sail’). Second, some path verbs in Spanish are derived from adverbs and nouns (e.g. acercarse ‘to approach’, distanciarse ‘to distance’). However, the author did not find significant differences in the quality of the path verbs in each language. Both English and Spanish possess verbs that express the thirteen types of path information included in her analysis. With respect to manner verbs, on the other hand, C concludes that English employs a greater number of such verbs than Spanish and uses some manner categories more frequently than Spanish (for example, in the use of vehicle and dance names to express specific types of motion). Nevertheless, both languages lexicalize similar sorts of manner information. C presents her analysis in Ch. 5 with ample examples from Spanish and English, including English translations for the Spanish examples.

The book ends with two appendices that provide a semantic breakdown of the motion verbs in English and Spanish used in the study. This study is of particular interest to students and scholars undertaking contrastive analyses of the semantic characteristics of verbs.