A “Thinking for Speaking” Study on Motion Events’ Lexicalization and Conceptualization


  • Jia Chen Shanghai International Studies University




motion event, lexicalization, linguistic relativity, language and thought, cognitive linguistics


This paper investigates the lexicalization of Motion Events by Chinese EFL learners and the reflected language-specific conceptualization patterns from their language use. The researcher aims to explore the implied relation between language and thought through the observation of language users’ online thinking for speaking data. The current study used the classic Frog Where Are You story narration task to collect linguistic data of English motion event expressions from 30 college students from China and the United States. The results indicate that the way of thinking in the Chinese mother tongue can influence the participants’ choice of vocabulary and sentence structure in verbalizing motion events. With the improvement of language proficiency, Chinese EFL learners are more likely to produce similar target language lexicalization patterns as their counterparts of English native speakers. The research may provide evidence for thinking for speaking linguistic relativity and some implications on foreign language acquisition.


Aktan-Erciyes, A. (2020). Effects of second language on motion event lexicalization: Comparison of bilingual and monolingual children’s frog story narratives. Journal of Language and Linguistic Studies, 16(3), 1127-1145. Doi: 10.17263/jlls.803576

Aveledo, F., & Athanasopoulos, P. (2016). Second language influence on first language motion event encoding and categorization in Spanish-speaking children learning L2 English. International Journal of Bilingualism, 20(4), 403-420. https://doi.org/10.1177/1367006915609235

Boroditsky, L. (2001). Does language shape thought? Mandarin and English speakers’ conceptions of time. Cognitive Psychology. 43, 1–22. doi: 10.1006/cogp.2001.0748

Bowerman, M., & Choi, S. (2001). Shaping meanings for language: universal and language specific in the acquisition of spatial semantic categories. In M. Bowerman & S. C. Levinson (eds.), Language Acquisition and Conceptual Development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 257-283.

Bylund E., Athanasopoulos P., Oostendorp M. (2013). Motion event cognition and grammatical aspect: Evidence from Afrikaans. Linguistics, 51(3), 929-955.

Cadierno, T. & Ruiz, L (2006). Motion events in L2 acquisition. Annual Review of Cognitive Linguistics. 4 (4), 183-216.

Chen, J. (2011). A brief introduction to neo-Whorfism. Foreign Language Teaching and Research, 43, 593-603.

Chen, J. (2014). On the Lexicalization and Sentential Construal of Bounded and Unbounded Motion Events in English and Chinese. Journal of Beijing International Studies University, 230(6), 23-30.

Chen, L. & Guo, J. (2009). Motion events in Chinese novels: evidence for an equipollently-framed language. Journal of Pragmatics, (41), 1749-1766.

Choi S., Bowerman M. (1991). Learning to express motion events in English and Korean: The influence of language-specific lexicalization patterns. Cognition, 41(1-3), 83-121.

Hickmann, M., & Hendriks, H. (2010). Typological constraints on the acquisition of spatial language in French and English. Cognitive Linguistics, 21(2), 189-215.

Ji Y.L. (2020). The Conceptualization of Motion Events by English⁃Chinese Bilinguals: Evidence from Behavioral Tasks. Modern Foreign Languages.43 (5), 654-666.

Ji, Y. (2009). The Expression of Voluntary and Caused Motion Events in Chinese and in English: Typological and Developmental Perspectives. Cambridge: University of Cambridge.

Ji. Y. L. & J. Hohenstein. (2014). The syntactic packaging of caused motion components in a second language: English learners of Chinese. Lingua, (2), 100-116.

Ji. Y. L. (2017). Motion Event Similarity Judgments in One or Two Languages: An Exploration of Monolingual Speakers of English and Chinese vs. L2 Learners of English. Frontiers in Psychology 8, 909 DOI=10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00909 URL=https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00909

Jiang Y.Y., Chen W.H. (2019). A survey of comparative studies of motion events between Chinese and English in the past two decades. Journal of Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, 30(3), 5-11, 20.

Liu C.X. (2012). A Review on Second Language Acquisition of Motion Events from the Perspective of Cognitive Types. Overseas English, 10(10), 19-20.

Lucy, J. A. (1997). Linguistic relativity. Annual Review of Anthropology, 26, 291–312.

Mayer, M. (1969). Frog, Where Are You? New York: Dial Press.

Slobin, D. I. (1996a). From “thought and language” to “thinking for speaking”. In Gumperz,J. J.& S.C. Levinson (eds.). Rethinking Linguistic Relativity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 70-96.

Slobin, D. I.(1996b). Two ways to travel: Verbs of motion in English and Spanish. In Shibatani,M. &S.A. Thompson (eds.). Essays in Semantics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 195-317.

Slobin,D.I. (2004). The Many ways to search for a frog: Linguistic typology and the expression of motion events. In S. Stromqvist & L. Verhoeven (eds.), Relating Events in a Narrative Typological and Contextual Perspectives. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 219-257.

Tai, James H-Y. 2003. Cognitive relativism: resultative construction in Chinese. An English-Chinese Contrastive Study on Lexicalization Patterns of Spontaneous Motion Events. Language and Linguistics, (42), 301-316.

Talmy, L. (1985). Lexicalization patterns: semantic structure in lexical forms. In Shopen. (ed.), Language Typology and Syntactic Description 3: Grammatical Categories and the Lexicon. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 57-149.

Talmy, L. (2000a). Toward a Cognitive Semantics. Vol. 1. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 55.

Talmy, L. (2000b). Toward a Cognitive Semantics. Vol. 2. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 101-109.

Whorf, B. (1956). Language, Thought, And Reality. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Zeng, Y.H. & Bai, J.H. (2013). A study on the acquisition of English motion events expressions by Chinese learners. Foreign Languages and Their Teaching (6), 44⁃48.

Zeng, Y.H. (2017). The Acquisition of English Caused Motion Events by Chinese EFL Learners. Foreign Language Education, 38(5), 60-64.

Zlatev, J. (2007). Spatial Semantics. In Dirk Geeraerts & Hubert Cuyckens (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics. Oxford University Press, 318-350.