Event construal in the auditory and visual modalities: A crosslinguistic study of placement events in Mandarin Chinese and German


Summary, in Swedish

This study investigates whether event construal of placement events varies between Mandarin Chinese and German speakers by comparing how native speakers of the respective languages speak and gesture about placement events. It has been argued that there are universal constraints on how languages encode placement events. However, languages arguably differ in their semantic divisions of placement events. Whether those differences in semantics lead to a language-specific event construal has been debated. Since speech alone cannot provide sufficient answers, gestures are suggested to give additional information about language-specific event construal. To test how the two languages differ in event construal, an empirical study was conducted of speech and speech-accompanying gestures testing how the two variables gestural temporal alignment with speech and handshape of gestures might inform the view on event construal. Data on speech as well as gestures was elicited in a director-matcher task for both languages. Based on previous studies and theoretical considerations, it was predicted that gestures would differ across languages with regard to handshapes and alignment with speech. The results show that for temporal alignment of gestures, both languages behave similarly, mainly aligning with locative expressions. However, they differ in handshapes, with German targeting information about end configuration of the object and its end location and Chinese targeting information about the object being placed and its end location. In conclusion, the study shows that there are subtle differences in event construal between German and Mandarin Chinese speakers.
Keywords: placement verbs, gestures, German, Mandarin


  • Languages and Literatures


  • Marianne Gullberg (Professor)