Piia Taremaa will defend her doctoral thesis titled "Attention meets language: a corpus study on the expression of motion in Estonian" on 21 February 2017 at 14:15.
Professor Renate Pajusalu;
Associate Professor Ilona Tragel
PhD Anetta Kopecka (Universite de Lyon)
Language ability is one of the core characteristics of human beings, and is clearly intertwined with other cognitive abilities, such as perception, working memory, and attention. Consequently, much research has been devoted to the analysis of language based on its cognitive underpinnings. The current corpus study contributes to this body of knowledge by examining the structure of actual motion clauses in Estonian (e.g., Ta jooksis trepist alla ‘(S)he ran down the stairs’). More specifically, expanding upon Talmy’s approach to windowing of attention I develop and test the ‘hypothesis of consistent windowing’. According to this hypothesis, domain-important information is expressed (i.e., windowed) in an enhanced manner to adequately reflect the characteristics of cognitive processing and to allow effective processing of language. In other words, what is perceived as important when observing motion, is also expressed as important. This is reached by means of employing clausal patterns where important information is depicted simultaneously by several linguistic units. To test the hypothesis of consistent windowing, I examine the semantic structure of 9500 Estonian actual motion clauses. This is done by applying a combination of different statistical methods. The results of this extensive corpus analysis strongly confirm the consistent windowing hypothesis. The typical patterns of motion expressions clearly reflect attentional patterns which would also appear when observing some physical motion situation. Particularly the spatial settings of motion clauses show that verb meaning and the meaning of spatial expressions in a clause tend to contain similar information. For example, source verbs have a strong tendency to combine with Source expressions (e.g., lahkus majast ‘(s)he left (from) the house’). Furthermore, the tendency applies also to manner information, as in väntas jalgrattaga ‘(s)he pedalled by bicycle’, in which the manner feature of instrument is expressed through both of the linguistic units in this clause. This tendency for consistent windowing can be seen as a semantic agreement between motion verbs and other expressions in the clause. However, the structure of motion clauses is very complex as language is a highly multivariate phenomenon. Much of this complexity is due to cognitive factors, such as restrictions on attention allocation and visual perception of motion. Furthermore, motion verbs can flexibly accommodate different semantic features and manner and directionality are certainly not mutually exclusive. Taken together, clausal patterns reflect attentional patterns. This indicates the embodied roots of language and that semantic differences can be seen in structural differences.