ISSN: 1139-8736
Depósito Legal: B-48039-2000

1. Introduction

The purpose of this study is to investigate how directed motion is expressed in English and Spanish. The expression "directed motion" is ambiguous in at least two ways. It can be understood as motion directed to a particular destination or as motion following a direction without any explicit mention of the origin or the goal of the movement.

(1.1) I walked into my house
(1.2) I walked along the river
There is a fundamental difference between these two sentences. In terms of the classification of Aktionsart (forms of action), proposed originally in Vendler (1957 [1967]) and developed in Dowty (1979), the first one refers to an accomplishment, whereas the second presents an activity.1  The first one is bounded, whereas the second is unbounded. As a consequence, in the second example any subpart of the motion event is still an instance of that same event, whereas in the first, this is not the case. Thus, any subpart of walk along the river is still a walking-along-the-river event. In contrast, a subpart of walk into my house cannot be considered as an instance of walking into my house. This distinction is akin to the distinction between count nouns and mass nouns. Any subpart of the referent of a mass noun can still be referred to with that same noun (a grain of sand can still be labeled sand), but no part of the referent of a count noun can be referred to with that noun (unless it is a case of synecdoche, or it has been turned into a mass noun). Thus, a page of a book cannot be called a book. In this work, both types of directed motion sentences will be dealt with. The concern will be situations in which an entity moves following a particular direction. Cases of metaphorical, projected, or fictive motion will not be dealt with extensively.2

No particular theoretical perspective will be adopted. This might be viewed by some as a weakness. How can progress in a science like linguistics be made without some theoretical commitment? There are two reasons for not adopting any particular framework. The first one has to do with the fact that work written under a particular perspective ages much faster. The second one is dissatisfaction with the current fragmented state of Linguistic Theory. Drawing from a metaphor widely used in the field of Cognitive Science, linguists are like blind people trying to describe an elephant. Depending on the part of the elephant they touch, their account of what the elephant is will differ radically.

This work will benefit and build from the knowledge about human language that has accumulated thanks to the contributions of scholars from many different areas and from many theoretical persuasions. In particular, it will draw from studies about language acquisition, psycholinguistics, gestures accompanying speech, from literary translations, from the vast amount of knowledge accumulated in dictionaries, and from theoretical and descriptive linguistic studies. The main objective will be to present a reasonable account of the subject matter, given the current state of the language sciences.

Spatial cognition is a topic that has acquired extraordinary interest with the rise and development of Cognitive Science, due to the fundamental role that space plays in cognition. Spatial cognition has even become an academic subject on its own with full-fledged doctoral programs and a research journal Spatial Cognition and Computation that Kluwer will begin to publish in 1999 ( In language, space has also become a central topic. The seminal book by Miller and Johnson-Laird (1976) about the relationship between language and perception, the pioneering work of Talmy in the characterization of space by natural languages (Talmy 1983, 1988), the foundation of Space Grammar (later renamed Cognitive Grammar) by Ronald Langacker (Langacker 1982, 1987, 1991), the re-emergence of the localist hypothesis (Anderson 1971, Bennet 1975), the renewed interest in the study of prepositions, and the studies from the connectionist perspective by Terry Regier and the L0 Project at the University of California at Berkeley (Regier 1996) have all contributed to make it so.3

Furthermore, there have been attempts to map linguistic concepts with what is known about some cortical systems in the brain. In this sense, Landau and Jackendoff (1993) have claimed that the difference in the way in which languages refer to objects (with open-class nouns) and to spatial relations (with close-class prepositions) reflects the "what" and "where" distinction found in the visual cortex of the brain by Ungerleider and Mishkin (1982), according to which the brain encodes in different ways the information about what an object is and where it is located. 

What might justify, then, a study of directionality in English and Spanish? Not only the interest it has as a contrastive study of two languages that have strong and growing connections, but what is more the two languages have been presented as the prototypical examples of the two differing patterns of how languages express directionality in Talmy’s attempt to establish a typological distinction (1985, 1991).4

The point of departure of this dissertation is Talmy's typology of lexicalization patterns (Talmy 1985, 1991). The dissertation’s first part is devoted to an assessment of the typology. In chapter 2, the typology is presented; then in chapter 3 evidence in favor of Talmy’s proposal is analyzed; and in chapter 4 evidence against is briefly introduced, as well as an alternative to the typology. The second part is a description of how the devices the two languages use to express directionality contribute to the meaning and syntax of directed motion sentences. The two major current proposals for the mapping from sentential meaning to syntax are revised under the light of directed motion. In chapter 5, the lexicalist or projectionist approach is dealt with. In chapter 6, the constructional approach is examined. Finally, in chapter 7 an integration of the two approaches is defended. 

The linguistic data has been drawn from dictionaries, other linguistic studies, natural occurrences in the media, INTERNET, published literary works and elicitation from native speakers. The reference for the examples from published sources will be given in the text. The examples that correspond to elicitation and judgment from native speakers are the ones for which no source is provided. 


1  Vendler proposed a four-way classification of verbs and other predicating elements in terms of their inherent temporal properties.  He distinguished between states, activities, achievements, and accomplishments. (see Van Valin and LaPolla 1997 for the syntactic tests usually employed to distinguish them).

2  The reason is practical, to mark the limits of this study.  Metaphorical, projected and fictive motion are central for language cognition as Lakoff and Johnson (1980) and Talmy (1996) have pointed out. See also Lindner (1982) for several metaphorical uses of English directional particles.

3  On prepositions see Hawkins (1984) for English, Vandeloise (1994) for French and Cifuentes (1996) for Spanish.  For language and space see  Herskovits (1986), Bloom et al. (1996), and the special issue of the journal Ethos on language, space and culture (Danziger 1998), and for Spanish, Cifuentes (1989).

4  The relevance of Talmy’s typology can be seen in the fact that it is accepted without caveats in one of the most influential Introductory Linguistics textbooks (O’Grady, Dobrovolsky, and Aronoff, 1993: 221-22; O’Grady, Dobrovolsky and Katamba, 1997: 280-2).  Normally only widely accepted ideas are incorporated in Introductory Linguistics textbooks.  Talmy’s typology is also mentioned in the recently issued EAGLES guidelines for semantic encoding (EAGLES 1998).  Van Valin and LaPolla (1997), one of the most recent and complete syntax manuals also mentions it on two occasions (p. 153 and p. 655 fn.11).  Finally, in Santos and Elorza’s (1996: 75-77) Manual de Semántica Histórica it is also presented as a fact.

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ISSN: 1139-8736
Depósito Legal: B-48039-2000