Guillermo Montero-Melis

Publications

Displaying 1 - 9 of 9
  • Montero-Melis, G. (2021). Consistency in motion event encoding across languages. Frontiers in Psychology, 12: 625153. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2021.625153.

    Abstract

    Syntactic templates serve as schemas, allowing speakers to describe complex events in a systematic fashion. Motion events have long served as a prime example of how different languages favor different syntactic frames, in turn biasing their speakers towards different event conceptualizations. However, there is also variability in how motion events are syntactically framed within languages. Here we measure the consistency in event encoding in two languages, Spanish and Swedish. We test a dominant account in the literature, namely that variability within a language can be explained by specific properties of the events. This event-properties account predicts that descriptions of one and the same event should be consistent within a language, even in languages where there is overall variability in the use of syntactic frames. Spanish and Swedish speakers (N=84) described 32 caused motion events. While the most frequent syntactic framing in each language was as expected based on typology (Spanish: verb-framed, Swedish: satellite-framed, cf. Talmy, 2000), Swedish descriptions were substantially more consistent than Spanish descriptions. Swedish speakers almost invariably encoded all events with a single syntactic frame and systematically conveyed manner of motion. Spanish descriptions, in contrast, varied much more regarding syntactic framing and expression of manner. Crucially, variability in Spanish descriptions was not mainly a function of differences between events, as predicted by the event-properties account. Rather, Spanish variability in syntactic framing was driven by speaker biases. A similar picture arose for whether Spanish descriptions expressed manner information or not: Even after accounting for the effect of syntactic choice, a large portion of the variance in Spanish manner encoding remained attributable to differences among speakers. The results show that consistency in motion event encoding starkly differs across languages: Some languages (like Swedish) bias their speakers towards a particular linguistic event schema much more than others (like Spanish). Implications of these findings are discussed with respect to the typology of event framing, theories on the relationship between language and thought, and speech planning. In addition, the tools employed here to quantify variability can be applied to other domains of language.

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  • Montero-Melis, G., & Jaeger, T. F. (2020). Changing expectations mediate adaptation in L2 production. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 23(3), 602-617. doi:10.1017/S1366728919000506.

    Abstract

    Native language (L1) processing draws on implicit expectations. An open question is whether non-native learners of a second language (L2) similarly draw on expectations, and whether these expectations are based on learners’ L1 or L2 knowledge. We approach this question by studying inverse preference effects on lexical encoding. L1 and L2 speakers of Spanish described motion events, while they were either primed to express path, manner, or neither. In line with other work, we find that L1 speakers adapted more strongly after primes that are unexpected in their L1. For L2 speakers, adaptation depended on their L2 proficiency: The least proficient speakers exhibited the inverse preference effect on adaptation based on what was unexpected in their L1; but the more proficient speakers were, the more they exhibited inverse preference effects based on what was unexpected in the L2. We discuss implications for L1 transfer and L2 acquisition.
  • Montero-Melis, G., Isaksson, P., Van Paridon, J., & Ostarek, M. (2020). Does using a foreign language reduce mental imagery? Cognition, 196: 104134. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2019.104134.

    Abstract

    In a recent article, Hayakawa and Keysar (2018) propose that mental imagery is less vivid when evoked in a foreign than in a native language. The authors argue that reduced mental imagery could even account for moral foreign language effects, whereby moral choices become more utilitarian when made in a foreign language. Here we demonstrate that Hayakawa and Keysar's (2018) key results are better explained by reduced language comprehension in a foreign language than by less vivid imagery. We argue that the paradigm used in Hayakawa and Keysar (2018) does not provide a satisfactory test of reduced imagery and we discuss an alternative paradigm based on recent experimental developments.

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  • Ostarek, M., Van Paridon, J., & Montero-Melis, G. (2019). Sighted people’s language is not helpful for blind individuals’ acquisition of typical animal colors. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 116(44), 21972-21973. doi:10.1073/pnas.1912302116.
  • Montero-Melis, G., & Bylund, E. (2017). Getting the ball rolling: the cross-linguistic conceptualization of caused motion. Language and Cognition, 9(3), 446–472. doi:10.1017/langcog.2016.22.

    Abstract

    Does the way we talk about events correspond to how we conceptualize them? Three experiments (N = 135) examined how Spanish and Swedish native speakers judge event similarity in the domain of caused motion (‘He rolled the tyre into the barn’). Spanish and Swedish motion descriptions regularly encode path (‘into’), but differ in how systematically they include manner information (‘roll’). We designed a similarity arrangement task which allowed participants to give varying weights to different dimensions when gauging event similarity. The three experiments progressively reduced the likelihood that speakers were using language to solve the task. We found that, as long as the use of language was possible (Experiments 1 and 2), Swedish speakers were more likely than Spanish speakers to base their similarity arrangements on object manner (rolling/sliding). However, when recruitment of language was hindered through verbal interference, cross-linguistic differences disappeared (Experiment 3). A compound analysis of all experiments further showed that (i) cross-linguistic differences were played out against a backdrop of commonly represented event components, and (ii) describing vs. not describing the events did not augment cross-linguistic differences, but instead had similar effects across languages. We interpret these findings as suggesting a dynamic role of language in event conceptualization.
  • Montero-Melis, G., Eisenbeiss, S., Narasimhan, B., Ibarretxe-Antuñano, I., Kita, S., Kopecka, A., Lüpke, F., Nikitina, T., Tragel, I., Jaeger, T. F., & Bohnemeyer, J. (2017). Satellite- vs. Verb-Framing Underpredicts Nonverbal Motion Categorization: Insights from a Large Language Sample and Simulations. Cognitive Semantics, 3(1), 36-61. doi:10.1163/23526416-00301002.

    Abstract

    Is motion cognition influenced by the large-scale typological patterns proposed in Talmy’s (2000) two-way distinction between verb-framed (V) and satellite-framed (S) languages? Previous studies investigating this question have been limited to comparing two or three languages at a time and have come to conflicting results. We present the largest cross-linguistic study on this question to date, drawing on data from nineteen genealogically diverse languages, all investigated in the same behavioral paradigm and using the same stimuli. After controlling for the different dependencies in the data by means of multilevel regression models, we find no evidence that S- vs. V-framing affects nonverbal categorization of motion events. At the same time, statistical simulations suggest that our study and previous work within the same behavioral paradigm suffer from insufficient statistical power. We discuss these findings in the light of the great variability between participants, which suggests flexibility in motion representation. Furthermore, we discuss the importance of accounting for language variability, something which can only be achieved with large cross-linguistic samples.
  • Montero-Melis, G. (2017). Thoughts in Motion: The Role of Long-Term L1 and Short-Term L2 Experience when Talking and Thinking of Caused Motion. PhD Thesis, Stockholm University, Centre for Research on Bilingualism, Stockholm.

    Abstract

    This thesis is about whether language affects thinking. It deals with the linguistic relativity hypothesis, which proposes that the language we speak influences the way we think. This hypothesis is investigated in the domain of caused motion (e.g., ‘The man rolled the tyre into the garage’), by looking at Spanish and Swedish, two languages that show striking differences in how motion events are encoded. The thesis consists of four studies. The first two focus on native speakers of Spanish and Swedish. Study I compares how Spanish and Swedish speakers describe the same set of caused motion events, directing the spotlight at how variable the descriptions are in each language. The results confirm earlier findings from semantic typology regarding the dominant ways of expressing the events in each language: Spanish behaves like a verb-framed language and Swedish like a satellite-framed language (Talmy, 2000). Going beyond previous findings, the study demonstrates—using the tools of entropy and Monte Carlo simulations—that there is markedly more variability in Spanish than in Swedish descriptions. Study II tests whether differences in how Spanish and Swedish speakers describe caused motion events are reflected in how they think about such events. Using a novel similarity arrangement task, it is found that Spanish and Swedish speakers partly differ in how they represent caused motion events if they can access language during the task. However, the differences disappear when the possibility to use language is momentarily blocked by an interference task. The last two studies focus on Swedish learners of Spanish as a second language (L2). Study III explores how Swedish learners (compared to native Spanish speakers) adapt their Spanish motion descriptions to recently encountered input. Using insights from the literature on structural priming, we find that Swedish learners initially expect to encounter in their L2, Spanish, those verb types that are typical in Swedish (manner verbs like ‘roll’) but that, with increasing proficiency, their expectations become increasingly attuned to the typical Spanish pattern of using path verbs (like ‘enter’). These expectations are reflected in the way L2 learners adapt their own production to the Spanish input. Study IV asks whether recent linguistic experience in an L2 can affect how L2 learners think about motion events. It is found that encountering motion descriptions in the L2 that emphasize different types of information (path or manner) leads L2 speakers to perceive similarity along different dimensions in a subsequent similarity arrangement task. Taken together, the thesis argues that the study of the relation between language and thought affords more valuable insights when not posed as an either-or question (i.e., does language affect thought or not?). In this spirit, the thesis contributes to the wider aim of investigating the conditions under which language does or does not affect thought and explores what the different outcomes tell us about language, thought, and the intricate mechanisms that relate them.
  • Montero-Melis, G., Jaeger, T. F., & Bylund, E. (2016). Thinking is modulated by recent linguistic experience: Second language priming affects perceived event similarity. Language Learning, 66(3), 636-665. doi:10.1111/lang.12172.

    Abstract

    Can recent second language (L2) exposure affect what we judge to be similar events? Using a priming paradigm, we manipulated whether native Swedish adult learners of L2 Spanish were primed to use path or manner during L2 descriptions of scenes depicting caused motion events (encoding phase). Subsequently, participants engaged in a nonverbal task, arranging events on the screen according to similarity (test phase). Path versus manner priming affected how participants judged event similarity during the test phase. The effects we find support the hypotheses that (a) speakers create or select ad hoc conceptual categories that are based on linguistic knowledge to carry out nonverbal tasks, and that (b) short-term, recent L2 experience can affect this ad hoc process. These findings further suggest that cognition can flexibly draw on linguistic categories that have been implicitly highlighted during recent exposure.
  • Athanasopoulos, P., Bylund, E., Montero-Melis, G., Damjanovic, L., Schartner, A., Kibbe, A., Riches, N., & Thierry, G. (2015). Two languages, two minds: Flexible cognitive processing driven by language of operation. Psychological Science, 26(4), 518-526. doi:10.1177/0956797614567509.

    Abstract

    People make sense of objects and events around them by classifying them into identifiable categories. The extent to which language affects this process has been the focus of a long-standing debate: Do different languages cause their speakers to behave differently? Here, we show that fluent German-English bilinguals categorize motion events according to the grammatical constraints of the language in which they operate. First, as predicted from cross-linguistic differences in motion encoding, bilingual participants functioning in a German testing context prefer to match events on the basis of motion completion to a greater extent than do bilingual participants in an English context. Second, when bilingual participants experience verbal interference in English, their categorization behavior is congruent with that predicted for German; when bilingual participants experience verbal interference in German, their categorization becomes congruent with that predicted for English. These findings show that language effects on cognition are context-bound and transient, revealing unprecedented levels of malleability in human cognition.

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