’He descended legs-upwards‘: Position and motion in Tzeltal frog stories

Brown, P. (2000). ’He descended legs-upwards‘: Position and motion in Tzeltal frog stories. In E. V. Clark (Ed.), Proceedings of the 30th Stanford Child Language Research Forum (pp. 67-75). Stanford: CSLI.
How are events framed in narrative? Speakers of English (a 'satellite-framed' language), when 'reading' Mercer Mayer's wordless picture book 'Frog, Where Are You?', find the story self-evident: a boy has a dog and a pet frog; the frog escapes and runs away; the boy and dog look for it across hill and dale, through woods and over a cliff, until they find it and return home with a baby frog child of the original pet frog. In Tzeltal, as spoken in a Mayan community in southern Mexico, the story is somewhat different, because the language structures event descriptions differently. Tzeltal is in part a 'verb-framed' language with a set of Path-encoding motion verbs, so that the bare bones of the Frog story can consist of verbs translating as 'go'/'pass by'/'ascend'/ 'descend'/ 'arrive'/'return'. But Tzeltal also has satellite-framing adverbials, grammaticized from the same set of motion verbs, which encode the direction of motion or the orientation of static arrays. Furthermore, vivid pictorial detail is provided by positional verbs which can describe the position of the Figure as an outcome of a motion event; motion and stasis are thereby combined in a single event description. (For example:  jipot jawal "he has been thrown (by the deer) lying­_face_upwards_spread-eagled". This paper compares the use of these three linguistic resources in Frog Story narratives from  Tzeltal adults and children, looks at their development in the narratives of children, and considers the results in relation to those from Berman and Slobin's (1996) comparative study of adult and child Frog stories.
Publication type
Book chapter
Publication date

Share this page