Motion at the linguistic border

On the influence of language dominance and language mode on the expression of motion in bilinguals (French-German)
Multilingualism in individuals
Project management:
01.2014 to 12.2017
In progress

Swiss National Science Foundation, Project funding, project no. 156121, 2014 - 2017

In the past 30 years, research on the linguistic expression of spatial relations has shed light on systematic structural and lexical differences between languages. One such difference concerns how some Romance and Germanic languages (e.g. French and German) describe how figures move in space. Whilst languages like French tend to express the path of movement by means of finite verbs, in German, uninflected elements such as verbal prefixes, adverbs or prepositions perform this function. Although this difference is gradual rather than categorical, it does appear to have far-reaching consequences: As demonstrated in a number of empirical studies, the type of information normally expressed in both languages is fundamentally different. Several studies have investigated the consequences of the differences in expressing space has on learning and using two typologically different languages.

This research project, however, focuses on two previously unexplored, yet interrelated research questions. The first issue concerns how various dominance relations between French and German in a bilingual individual effect the linguistic expression of spatial relations. The main goal is to identify whether and exactly how the dominant language leaves traces in the non-dominant language (e.g. French structures in German utterances of bilingual individuals whose dominant language is French), and whether, inversely, traces of the non-dominant language can also be found in the dominant language.

This question of possible bi-directional transfer will then be combined with a second inquiry into how degree of activation of the bilinguals’ languages (language mode) immediately influences lexicalization patterns in speech production. Are convergence effects influenced by a simultaneous activation of both languages? If yes, are these effects greater in the dominant or the non-dominant language? In this project, we explore these questions using a variety of instruments, including video stimuli with motion segments that bilingual individuals must describe in two modes and two languages (monolingual vs. bilingual mode, German vs. French). A series of items and tests are employed to gather the most important individual variables (identified on the basis of theoretical assumptions) of the participants, thus enabling us to statistically model the influence of individual variables on dependent linguistic variables.

StoBerMan - An instrument to elicit motion event descriptions

 One of 60 videos used in this study

Click here to download the complete package, containing 60 video clips employed as stimuli in this study.

Test design

The 16 HTML pages contained in the stimuli package show 60 video stimuli in four mode conditions and four orders. The 60 stimuli are composed of 30 critical and 30 filler items. The four language modes are as follows: de=German monolingual mode, fr=French monolingual mode, bide=German bilingual mode, bifr= French bilingual mode. In the monolingual modes, participants are asked to describe all the stimuli in the respective language. In the German bilingual mode, critical items are described in German, filler items in French. In the French bilingual mode, critical items are described in French, filler items in German.

The critical items display self-propelled motion events with the figure moving in a specific manner and covering a specific path. The manner of motion of the 30 critical items is always of a different type. Five unidirectional path types are included: up, down, across, out and in.

Fillers are implemented as an inherent part of the research design to distract participants from the research aims and prevent them from using the same constructions and verb types. Thus, they are supposed to establish a bilingual mode by trying to activate the non-target language to the same degree as the language used to describe the critical stimuli. The scenes for the filler items are adopted from the caused-motion domain and never showed intransitive motion events. The aim is therefore to prevent participants from activating the same constructions and verb types used in the critical stimuli. The motion types of the filler stimuli focus on placement events, of which German displays at least three types: setzen ‘to put sitting’, legen ‘to put lying’, stellen ‘to put standing’ that can be translated into the verbs mettre or poser in French. The 30 filler video clips are designed to display the canonical position and dimensionality of 10 setzen-types, 10 legen-types and 10 stellen-types.

The stimuli are presented in four different orders in a randomized block design. The 60 video clips are divided into ten blocks of three filler items and three critical items each. Theoretically, this design allows no more than six filler or critical items to be presented sequentially (e.g. three filler items at the end of one block and three filler items at the beginning of the next block). In the blocks, critical items are placed with different path types and filler items for each of the three (German) caused motion types (i.e. setzen, stellen and legen). Inside each block, the items are distributed randomly.

There are two orders in which blocks are assigned semi-randomly, i.e. it is paid attention that the blocks in the two orders did not show repeating patterns. The third and fourth orders show the reversed block arrangement, i.e. starting with the blocks that are placed at the end of the first and second orders and ending with their starting blocks, resulting in a total of four different orders.

Participants are asked to describe the items by answering the question “Was passiert?” or “Qu’est-ce qui se passe?”.

To play or pause the clip, press the spacebar.


To cite this instrument, please use the following reference:

Berthele R., Stocker L. "StoBerMan: An instrument to elicit motion event descriptions" (2014-2017). http://tinyurl.com/stoberman 


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