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Categories across language and cognition -

Cut and break


This project investigates the semantic and syntactic encoding of actions of cutting and breaking across a range of languages, and examines how children acquire their language-specific semantic categories. The starting point of investigation is an etic grid of event types – a set of videoclips – which vary along a number of parameters (e.g. agent, instrument, object, manner, etc). The clips are used to elicit speaker descriptions from a sample of 28 geographically, genetically and typologically diverse languages. The descriptions are then analyzed using multivariate statistics. These techniques extract recurrent categorisation strategies found across languages, as well as identifying unusual patterns. They also quantify how much structure is shared – if any.

In a separate line of enquiry, we ask whether children show a universal starting point in their acquisition of cutting and breaking events. Using statistical modeling we can demonstrate that four-year-old children are more similar to their adult models than they are to four-year-old children of a different language community, suggesting that there is not a universal starting point.


Representative publications

  • Majid, A., Boster, J.S. & Bowerman, M. (2008). The cross-linguistic categorization of everyday events: A study of cutting and breaking. Cognition, 109, 235-250. more >
  • Majid, A. & Bowerman, M. (2007). Cutting and breaking events: A cross-linguistic perspective. Special issue of Cognitive Linguistics, 18(2). more >

Contact person

Asifa Majid

The videoclips can be obtained from the Cut & Break page on the L&C Field Manuals website.

Last checked 2013-10-30 by Mark Dingemanse


Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics

Street address

Wundtlaan 1
6525 XD Nijmegen
The Netherlands

Mailing address
P.O. Box 310
6500 AH Nijmegen
The Netherlands

Phone:  +31-24-3521911
Fax:      +31-24-3521213