Tracing trajectories: Motion event construal by advanced L2 French-English and L2 French-German speakers

Although the typological contrast between Romance and Germanic languages as verb-framed versus satellite-framed (Talmy 1985) forms the background for many empirical studies on L2 acquisition, the inconclusive picture to date calls for more differentiated, fine-grained analyses. The present study goes beyond explanations based on this typological contrast and takes into account the sources from which spatial concepts are mainly derived in order to shape the trajectory traced by the entity in motion when moving through space: the entity in V-languages versus features of the ground in S-languages. It investigates why advanced French learners of English and German have difficulty acquiring the use of spatial concepts typical of the L2s to shape the trajectory, although relevant concepts can be expressed in their L1. The analysis compares motion event descriptions, based on the same sets of video clips, of L1 speakers of the three languages to L1 French-L2 English and L1 French-L2 German speakers, showing that the learners do not fully acquire the use of L2-specific spatial concepts. We argue that encoded concepts derived from the entity in motion vs. the ground lead to a focus on different aspects of motion events, in accordance with their compatibility with these sources, and are difficult to restructure in L2 acquisition.
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