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Expressions of motion events in German: an integrative constructionist approach for FLT1

Sabine De Knop


Les expressions du mouvement reflètent la conceptualisation d'événements centraux pour les êtres humains. La plupart des études sur le mouvement se sont concentrées sur une facette du mouvement (p. ex. les différences typologiques, le point de vue de l'orateur, la localisation ou les prépositions du mouvement) ou sur une construction particulière comme la construction du mouvement causé ou la construction intransitive locative. Cela signifie qu'elles ont traité de constructions isolées, tout en ignorant les spécificités conceptuelles et linguistiques globales ainsi que les interconnexions entre les constructions. L'article adopte une approche alternative qui prend le concept de mouvement comme point de départ, pour décrire ensuite la sémantique des constructions et les préférences de lexicalisation dans une langue spécifique, se concentrant ainsi sur la famille des constructions allemandes du mouvement directionnel. Le concept de famille peut être exploité dans l'enseignement des langues étrangères pour favoriser un apprentissage plus efficace de ces constructions. L’article propose quelques stratégies fondées sur les principes hiérarchiques (‘scaffolding’) ainsi que sur l'incarnation des concepts (‘embodiment’).

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1. Introduction

  • 1 I thank Maarten Lemmens and the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on an earli (...)

1Expressions of motion have attracted the interest of linguists and psychologists as they reflect the conceptualization of events central to human beings (Bylund & Athanasopoulos 2015; Slobin 2017). Most studies have focused on one facet of motion (e.g. typological differences, the speaker’s perspective, location/path of motion prepositions) or on one specific construction like the caused motion construction (Luzondo 2007; Peña 2009; Van der Leek 1997) or the intransitive locative construction (Boas 2003; Iwata 2008). This means that they have dealt with isolated, scattered constructions, while ignoring overall conceptual and linguistic specificities as well as interconnections between constructions. This study adopts an alternative approach which starts from the construal (Achard 2008) of the motion concept, the semantics of constructions and the lexicalization preferences in a specific language. It deals with German motion events, i.e. “situation[s] that involve displacement of an object in relation to a reference point” (Bylund & Athanasopoulos 2015: 3), and further with the corresponding constructions. The conceptualization of motion underlies a broad array of phenomena in this language (see also Flecken et al. 2015), but the paper focuses on directed motion (Cappelle 2018) towards a goal (‘to Z’) which means that there is a movement of a person or an object along a path from A towards/to Z (a more accurate definition of directed motion is discussed in Section 2). We will see in Section 3 that this movement can be spatial or temporal, or in a more abstract sense that it can apply to a change of state. The paper further aims at showing that German motion constructions constitute a family of related constructions with “intra-constructional and paradigmatic relations among constructions” (Ruiz de Mendoza Ibanez et al. 2017: 2). The concept of a family of constructions is interesting not only at the descriptive level, but in a pedagogical perspective too it can be beneficial for a more adequate teaching methodology.

2The idea of a family of constructions is not completely new. Already in 1985 Shibatani studied “the correlation of passives with other grammatical structures such as the reflexive, the reciprocal, etc. on the basis of prototype categorization” (Ruiz de Mendoza Ibanez et al. 2017: 2). Janda (1990) also analyzed the links between constructions with the dative case in Czech. We can also quote Goldberg & Jackendoff’s (2004) study on “The English resultative as a family of constructions”, which aims at establishing a taxonomy of the subconstructions (2004: 536) “united by related but not identical syntax and by related but not identical semantics” (2004: 563). The motivation for their taxonomy is that common arguments are shared by related constructions (2004: 547). By contrast, Proost & Winkler (2015) propose a different definition of the family concept with their study of “family similarities” between German argument structure patterns based on Wittgenstein’s concept of family resemblance (1955). For them constructions can build a family on the basis of their status as argument constructions. As we will see in the next sections, our approach differs from this description. We have to wait until 2017 to see the first volume on “Constructing Families of Constructions” edited by Ruiz de Mendoza Ibanez et al. (2017) who point to the fact that “little attention has been paid to portions of the constructicon in which several (sub-)constructions relate to one another thereby giving rise to families of constructions” (2007: 2). In this edited volume De Knop & Mollica (2017) focus on the family of German dative constructions, also starting from Wittgenstein’s (1955) concept of family resemblance which is combined with a constructionist description of such constructions.

3Most contributions so far to the study of families of constructions start from specific constructions and subconstructions, e.g. the resultative construction (Goldberg & Jackendoff 2004), constructions with a specific verb (e.g. the German search-constructions by Proost 2017), the dative case construction (among others Janda 1990), the reflexive construction (Fried 2007), the ditransitive construction (Barðdal et al. 2011), to name just a few. The present study takes another starting-point, namely the concept of directed motion and its realization by various constructions in German. It further shows that these motion constructions are connected with each other and that they build a larger network of interrelated constructions.

4The paper is structured as follows: in the following section it zooms in on the definition of directed motion events, i.e. motion to a goal, and the German lexicalization patterns with the corresponding constructions. Not only can the prevalence of motion expressions be recognized with the variety of motion lexemes – either verbs or adverbs –, but also with the morphosyntactic cases which also allow a differentiation of motion events in German. Section 3 describes the family of motion constructions which can express actual, non-actual or subjective motion. A description of these constructions as a network or family can be beneficial for a more efficient teaching of such constructions. This is discussed in Section 4. Finally, Section 5 brings some conclusions and perspectives.

2. Definition of motion events and lexicalization patterns

2.1 German as a satellite-framed language

  • 2 Recently a discussion about the nature of satellites has taken place. Whereas Talmy (2000) also inc (...)

5German has been defined as belonging to the category of satellite-framed languages which express the path of motion events mainly with so-called satellites. These can be prepositions or particles2, e.g. in and aus in example (1) or bis auf and hinauf in the following example,

(2) Das Motorrad fährt bis auf den Berg hinauf.
The motorcycle drives up to on the mountain upwards
‘The motorcycle drives up to the mountain.’

6Satellite-framed languages are also known to focus on the manner of motion (Iwata 2002; see also De Knop & Gallez 2011) which is frequently expressed in the verb itself. This explains the use of fährt (‘drives’) in example (2) as opposed to the more general verbs go in English or aller in French. German has a large variety of motion verbs like gehen (‘to go’), fahren (‘to drive’), fliegen (‘to fly’), but also stolzieren (‘to stalk’), schreiten (‘to tread’), trampeln (‘to stamp’), sausen (‘to swish’), etc.

7Even skiing is seen as a specific motion event either with a ‘vehicle’ in e.g. schifahren (lit. ‘to drive ski’) or ‘on foot’ with schilaufen (lit. ‘to run ski’ = ‘to do cross-country skiing’). These examples about skiing demonstrate that there is an obligation in German to differentiate according to the manner when one talks about motion, this is not the case in Romance languages like French. These languages do not have so many differentiated verbs, but more than that even when they have such verbs they are not necessarily used with the same frequency as in German. This also applies to the variety of German placement verbs used to express the “putting” (Berthele 2012) event of objects or persons, e.g. stellen (‘to put upright’), setzen (‘to set’), legen (‘to lay’), stecken (‘to stick’), and so on,

(3) Maria legt das Kind ins Bett.
Maria lays the child into the bed
Maria puts the child to bed.’

  • 3 This is not totally true: in colloquial German the verb tun (‘to do’) is frequently used to express (...)

8German does not have a generic term to express a simple placement event without specifying the orientation of objects or persons3


10The variation in expressions of motion is also present at the level of pronominal adverbs (see e.g. example 2) which combine the perspective of the speaker/writer with a preposition expressing the path, e.g. hinauf (lit. ‘away from the speaker’ + ‘upwards’), hinab (lit. ‘away from the speaker’ + ‘downwards’), herunter (lit. ‘towards the speaker’ + ‘underwards’), hin-/herüber (lit. ‘away from/towards the speaker’ + ‘across/over’),… (for more details and additional examples, see De Knop 2014).

11The different verbal lexemes quoted above and the pronominal adverbs for motion are used in specific motion constructions, which can be either the causative motion construction, the caused motion construction or the intransitive construction. Section 3 deals with these different constructions and related subconstructions. But before doing so, we focus on morphosyntactic characteristics of German as a language with a case-marking system which sustains the difference between various types of motion (directed or not).

2.2 Morphosyntactic case-marking

12As claimed by Slobin (2017: 419), “[t]he encoding of Path and Manner is not carried out independently of a language’s morphosyntactic and morphophonological characteristics”. German has a case-marking system with four cases, i.e. the nominative, the accusative, the dative and the genitive. The expression of the goal in motion events is marked by a specific case, more specifically by the accusative or the dative case, as can be seen in the following examples:

(4) Maria stellt die Vase auf den Tisch. [accusative]
Maria puts (in an upright position) the vase on the table
Maria puts the vase on the table.’

13as opposed to

(5) Der Bus fährt zum Bahnhof. [dative]
The bus drives to the station
‘The bus goes to the station.’

14The goal in motion events can be introduced by different prepositions, either by two-way prepositions like an (‘at/to’), auf (‘(up)on’), hinter (‘behind’), in (‘in’), neben (‘next to’), über (‘above’), unter (‘under’), vor (‘before/in front of’), zwischen (‘between’), which can be used either with the accusative or the dative case, or by prepositions which always require the same dative case, e.g. zu (‘to’), nach (‘to’). In traditional studies (compare Bouillon 2001, Schulz & Griesbach 1960 or Grammis (​systematische-grammatik/​1420)), the criterion for the selection of the accusative or the dative case with two-way prepositions is sometimes described as depending on the difference between a dynamic (for the accusative) vs. static (for the dative) motion event. But Roche & Suner (2017: 283) argue that this dichotomy does not allow to explain the cases selected in the examples ich fahre auf der Straße (‘I drive on the road’ [dative] = I am driving on the road) or ich gehe im Flugzeug (‘I go in the plane’ [dative] = ‘I go up and down in the plane’). This is also confirmed by the studies by Willems (2011), Rys et al. (2014) and Willems et al. (2018) which show that the difference between “motus” and “status” proves not to be ideal for the description of all instances, especially when it comes to deal with more abstract verbs like versenken (‘to sink sth’, ‘to dump sth’, ‘to scupper sth’), versinken (‘to sink, to descend into’) (Rys et al. 2014), aufnehmen in (‘to take up into, to include in’), or aufbauen auf (‘to build on’) (Willems et al. 2018) which are sometimes used with an accusative case, at other times with the dative for the expression of the goal. So, it becomes clear that the “alternation must, at least partly, be due to constructional regularities which do not follow from the grammatical (formal and semantic) features of the prepositions alone.” (Willems 2011: 329). Inspired by Paul’s grammar book (1916-1920) and by Leys’ studies (1989 and 1995), Willems (2011: 351) claims that the accusative is used “when a spatial relationship to an object is being established”, i.e. when it is incipient, whereas the dative is preferred for an already established, existing relationship. Admittedly, this description offers a better explanation for the selection of the accusative vs. dative case in expressions of motion events. But it cannot justify the use of the dative case after the path of motion prepositions zu (‘to’; see example 5 above) or nach (‘to/towards’) in the following example

(6) Die Politiker fliegen nach Kanada. [dative]
The politicians fly to Canada
‘The politicians fly to Canada.’

15Both one-way prepositions zu and nach are also used in constructions expressing directed motion, but they focus on the path of motion and not on the attainment of the goal or on the already established spatial relationship. A further criterion is needed to explain the use of the dative after the prepositions zu and nach. Scheller (2009) and Roche & Scheller (2008) rely on the element of the crossing of a (fictive) boundary to explain the motivation behind the selection of the accusative case. When no boundary-crossing is implied the dative is used, as illustrated by examples (5) and (6) or the following example pair (7) and (8):

(7) Der Clown geht auf die Straße. [accusative]
The clown goes upon the street
‘The clown goes on the street.’

16In this case the clown is supposed to cross the door of the building to leave the building and go to another location (the street), as opposed to

(8) Der Clown geht auf der Straße. [dative]
The clown goes on the street
‘The clown goes up and down the street.’

17In this example the clown is already on the street. Let us now turn to the constructional patterns for the expression of directed motion in German.

3. A family of German motion constructions

18The constructionist model postulates a lexicon-grammar continuum which means that it defines the meaning of lexemes in relation with their use in constructional patterns. Accordingly, the motion lexemes listed above in Section 2.1 appear in three possible constructions, namely the intransitive motion construction, the causative motion construction and the caused motion construction.

  • 4 Matsumoto (in press: 390) prefers to avoid the term ‘intransitive motion construction’ “because Sel (...)

19When talking about motion to a goal, one has first to ask whether a figure is moving itself, or whether it is being moved, or to quote Matsumoto (in press: 390), recognize “the way the Figure participates in the representation of motion”. This distinction is expressed by two different types of construction, i.e. the intransitive construction4 in which the figure corresponds to the subject vs. the transitive construction with a direct object which represents the figure which is being moved. E.g.

(9) Das Kind geht ins Bett. [intransitive]
The child goes into the bed
‘The child goes to bed.’

(10) Maria legt das Kind ins Bett. [transitive]
Maria lays the child into the bed
‘Maria puts the child to bed.’

20Matsumoto (in press: 390) uses a different terminology and makes a tripartite distinction between “self-motion” with the subject moving, “caused motion” in which the object is moving and “emanation” characterized by the fact that “[n]othing in a clause moves, e.g. Kim looked up at the sky.” This last term designates “one subtype of fictive or nonactual motion expressions” (Matsumoto in press: 390), it depicts fictive motion of vision. We will discuss these terminological issues in detail in the following chapters. Let us first look at the intransitive motion construction.

3.1 Intransitive motion constructions

21Intransitive motion constructions have the form: ‘X moves to Z’. Following Goldberg’s (1995: 160) description of motion constructions, we can represent the intransitive motion construction in (9) as follows:

Figure 1. the intransitive motion construction

Figure 1. the intransitive motion construction

22In its prototypical use, the oblique element in the intransitive motion construction ‘X moves to Z’ realizes a concrete spatial goal, as illustrated by the following examples:

(11) Die Studenten gehen in die Kneipe. [accusative]
The students go into the bar
‘The students go to the bar.’

(12) Der Bus fährt zum Bahnhof. [dative]
The bus drives to the station
‘The bus drives to the station.’

(13) Er fliegt nach Japan. [dative]
He flies to Japan
‘He flies to Japan.’

23These examples are characterized by a salience of the manner of motion as different motion verbs must be used depending on the context. Accordingly, it would not be possible to use gehen (‘to go’) in the context of example (13) if this sentence is pronounced by someone living in Europe, as gehen is always on foot. The accusative case is used with the two-way preposition in in example (11) for the expression of an incipient motion event towards a goal. In examples (12) and (13) it is a dative which appears with the prepositions zu and nach as they focus on the path of motion without any boundary-crossing.

24The oblique element can also be the expression of time or a state. Motion can be interpreted as a movement or a transfer of an entity from A to Z in a specific dimension which can be either spatial or temporal. Alternatively, it can also express a state, as illustrated by the following examples:

(14) Sein Denken fällt zurück ins Mittelalter.
His thinking falls back into the middle-ages
‘His thinking falls back into the Middle Ages.’

(15) Ihre Gedanken fliegen in die Zukunft.
Her thoughts fly into the future
‘Her thoughts are directed towards the future.’

(16) Er tanzt in den Mai.
He dances into the May
‘He goes to a dancing party on the last day of April and dances till the 1st of May.’

(17) Die Frau fällt in den Schlaf.
The woman falls into the sleep
‘The woman falls asleep.’

25Examples (14)–(17) instantiate either a temporal goal or a state. This is possible through metaphorization processes. These examples are based on two primary conceptual metaphors, i.e. time is motion and change is motion (Grady 1997). Motion and time are closely linked concepts in human life, “motion content appears to be one of the most salient ways in which time is elaborated” (Evans 2003: 201). Such examples are possible because “temporal concepts are elaborated in terms of motion trajectories which are horizontally extended (i.e., ‘straight lines’)” (Evans 2003: 202). The metaphorization process is characterized by the use of a concrete spatial verb of motion for the expression of a movement in another dimension, namely time or a different state.

  • 5 Some scholars use the term “fictive motion” for non-actual motion (see Matlock 2004a and 2004b).

26Motion verbs, e.g. gehen (‘to go’), sich erstrecken (‘to stretch’), can also be used to express a non-actual5 (Blomberg 2017; Brandt 2013) event of motion, i.e. static events in which the figure is not moving at all. E.g.

(18) Das Bett geht bis in die Ecke.
The bed goes up into the corner
‘The bed goes up to the corner.’

(19) Der Rhein erstreckt sich bis in die Niederlande.
The Rhine stretches up to the Netherlands
‘The Rhine flows down to / as far as the Netherlands.’

27Özçaliskan et al. (2017: 26) claim that non-physical motion resembles the patterns found for the description of physical motion through mental simulation. In such cases “dynamic qualities” (Blomberg 2017: 211) are attributed to some events and this motivates the use of motion verbs to describe static situations. This is possible because of the “dynamic character of perception” (Blomberg 2017: 211) resulting from the intimate connection between perception and action: “Perception is imbued with capacities to act.” (Gibson 1979) In fact, such examples express a measurement, a quantity and not a transfer from A to Z. Motion verbs are used metaphorically for a locative or quantitative description. The goal is mainly spatial but can also be temporal, e.g.

(20) Der Krieg ging/erstreckte sich über 30 Jahre.
The war went/stretched itself over 30 years
‘The war lasted for 30 years.’

28In mathematics such dimensions are called ‘nominal dimensions’, they express purely qualitative characteristics and can be answers to yes-/no-questions.

29Non-motion verbs, and more specifically noise verbs, can also be used in the intransitive motion construction (see the studies by Bäuerle 2014, Engelberg 2009, Goschler 2011 and Maienborn 1994). In such cases the whole event is perceived as motion through mental scanning, as illustrated by the following examples:

(21) Das Motorrad knattert in den Ort.
The motorcycle rattles into the city
‘The motorcycle rattles into the city.’

(22) Das Grammophon krachte auf den Boden. (Goschler 2011: 32)
The record-player crashed on to the floor
‘The record-player crashed on the floor.’

30The only clue for motion is through the use of the accusative case at the level of the oblique element, but also through the semantics of the intransitive motion construction. It is the construction which conveys the dynamic motion meaning ‘to Z’. Talmy (2000: 171) speaks of a “cognitive bias toward dynamism”, i.e. languages privilege the expression of motion even if there is none. For Goldberg (1995: 160) the intransitive construction is linked to the transitive caused motion construction. This brings us to the next category of constructions.

3.2 Transitive motion constructions

31The figure in transitive constructions is the person or object being moved by an agent syntactically instantiated by the subject. Among the transitive constructions of directed motion two construction types can be distinguished, namely the causative motion construction with the form ‘X moves Y to Z’ on the one hand and the caused motion construction which realizes the predication ‘X causes Y to move to Z’ on the other. Goldberg (2006: 35) does not see a need to postulate two different constructions because they share the same surface syntax and convey a similar causative meaning. This is only partly true if we compare the two formal structures we have just quoted. As we show hereunder, there are several reasons for not considering these constructions as the alternatives of one and the same construction. Before we look at the concrete differences between the two constructions, let us first turn to a description of each construction separately.

3.2.1 The causative motion construction ‘X moves Y to Z’

32Let us start with an example of a German causative motion construction:

(23) Maria legt das Baby in den Kinderwagen.
Maria lays the baby into the pram
‘Maria puts the baby in the pram.’

33The ‘causer’ Maria puts the theme (= das Baby) into a goal expressed by the oblique element Kinderwagen. In this example, the oblique element designates a concrete place or a location. The motion predication is sustained by the accusative case at the level of the oblique element for the incipient event. Following Goldberg (1995), the causative motion construction can be represented as follows:

Figure 2. Representation of the causative motion construction

Figure 2. Representation of the causative motion construction

34In actual motion events, the causer ‘X puts/places a concrete Y into/on/under/over a spatial Z (= goal)’. In this construction a placement verb like setzen (‘to set’), legen (‘to lay’), stellen (‘to put upright’), hängen (‘to hang’),… is used as can be seen in example (23) or in the following examples:

(24) Maria stellt die Vase auf den Tisch.
Maria puts upright the vase on the table
‘Maria puts the vase on the table.’

(25) Maria setzt das Baby auf die Kommode.
Maria sets the baby onto the chest of drawers
‘Maria sets the baby on the chest of drawers.’

35The salience of manner becomes visible with the obligation to use different verbs for different orientations of objects or persons in German. Other motion verbs are also possible in this construction, e.g.

(26) Der Mann bewegt den Wecker ans Ohr.
The man moves the alarm clock towards the ear
‘The man moves the alarm clock to his ear.’

(27) Der Vater fährt das Auto in die Garage.
The father drives the car into the garage
‘The father drives the car into the garage.’

36These last examples differ from examples (24) and (25) as the verbs bewegen and fahren can also be used in transitive constructions without an oblique element, in which case they would not express directed motion. By contrast, in (24) and (25) the oblique element cannot be omitted as it is inherent part of the argument structure construction. Matsumoto (in press: 412) distinguishes different causative path verbs: co-motional, controlled and ballistic. The semantics of co-motional verbs implies that the causer moves with the moved entity, this is e.g. the case with the verbs bewegen or fahren. By contrast, controlled caused motion “involves an unmoving person continuously causing something to move, as in using your hand to move something” (Matsumoto in press: 412), this is illustrated by the following examples

(28) Er gießt Rotwein in sein Glas.
He pours red wine into his glass
‘He pours red wine into his glass.’

(29) Maria schreibt den Text an die Tafel.
Maria writes the text onto the blackboard
‘Maria writes the text on the blackboard.’

37Finally, ballistic path verbs involve “a causer acting on something which then starts to move on its own, as in throwing something” (Matsumoto in press: 412), as instantiated in the following example,

(30) Die Elektro-Mobilität katapultiert die Menschheit in ein neues Zeitalter.
The electro mobility catapults humankind into a new era
‘Electro mobility sends humankind to a new era.’

38Examples of controlled or ballistic motion (28)-(30) instantiate what Langacker has called “subjective” or “abstract motion” (2006: 25). In such cases no proper motion verb is used, but the whole event is perceived as motion through visual or mental scanning.

39Just like with the intransitive constructions, the oblique element can be of different nature. It is frequently spatial, as illustrated in (24)-(29). The space semantics can be realized as a metaphor or a metonymy, as in the following example in which the goal is a person,

(31) Maria setzt Vertrauen in ihren Freund.
Maria sets trust into her friend
‘Maria trusts her friend.’

40In this case the friend is realized as the metaphorical container in which something can be put, namely trust. But the oblique element can also express a temporal goal, as illustrated in the above example (30) or the following examples (32)-(34).

(32) Das Lesen versetzte mich in das letzte Jahrhundert.
The reading moved me into the last century
‘Reading brought/sent me to the last century.’

(33) Der Lehrer legt die Stunde auf einen Nachmittag.
The teacher lays the course on an afternoon
‘The teacher places the course on an afternoon.’

(34) Die Regierung verlegt den Nationalfeiertag auf den 3. Oktober.
The government postpones the national holiday on the 3rd October
‘The government postpones the national holiday to the 3rd of October.’

41Example (35) instantiates a process with a metonymical oblique element which stands for healthy food:

(35) Die Mutter hat ihre Familie auf fleischlose Kost gesetzt.
The mother has her family on a without meat diet set
‘The mother has put her family on a diet without meat.’

42The causative construction of directed motion expresses a movement, a transfer or a change towards a goal. But this construction can also contain a motion verb to realize non-actual motion, i.e. more abstract events where no real transfer or change is expressed, but measurement or quantity which is visually perceived as motion (see the description of intransitive constructions above). Such events are interpreted as being dynamic by speakers, e.g.

(36) Die Firma erstreckt ihre Tätigkeit ins Ausland.
The company stretches its activity into the foreign countries
‘The company expands its activity abroad.’

43Causative constructions of directed motion events ‘A to Z’ can also express subjective motion which implies mental scanning (see the description of intransitive constructions), e.g.

(37) Maria übersetzt den Text ins Deutsche.
Maria translates the text into the German
‘Maria translates the text into German.’

44The process of translation is interpreted as a transfer of words or sentences from language A to language Z. The use of the accusative case after the two-way preposition in sustains the incipient, not yet established motion event towards a goal. An interesting example is

(38) Der Student hat eine Frage an den Professor.
The student has a question to the professor
‘The student addresses a question to the professor’.

45It does not contain a verb of action, but haben (‘to have’). One could argue that this sentence is an ellipsis and that the verb richten (‘to direct’) is missing. But even so, this example shows at its best the decisive role of case-marking and of the construction itself which maps the motion reading onto the different constituents.

3.2.2 The caused motion construction ‘X causes Y to move to Z’

46The caused motion construction shares with the causative motion construction we have just discussed a similar syntax and semantics. This leads Goldberg (2006: 35) to conclude that it is not necessary to make any difference between both constructions. Let us first look at a few examples:

(39) Maria befiehlt das Kind ins Bett.
Maria commands the child into the bed
‘Maria urges the child to bed.’

(40) Maria brüllt ihren Hund auf den Berg.
Maria yells her dog upon the mountain
‘Maria yells her dog on to the mountain.’

(41) Sie mogeln ihren Freund ins Theater.
They cheat their friend into the theatre
‘They cheat their friend into the theatre.’

47The caused motion construction of the examples (39)-(41) can be represented as follows:

Figure 3. Representation of the caused motion construction

Figure 3. Representation of the caused motion construction

48Goldberg (1995: 152) describes the semantics of this construction as follows: “the causer argument directly causes the theme argument to move along a path designated by the directional phrase”; that is, ‘X causes Y to move Z’. This formal structure does not quite reflect the examples she quotes, i.e. “They laughed the poor guy out of the room/Frank sneezed the tissue off the table”. If the direct object is represented by Y, then the oblique element should be ‘to Z’ as it expresses a goal and not an additional element which has to be moved. That is why we rather claim that the formal structure should be ‘X causes Y to move to Z’.

49By contrast with Goldberg’s claim of no need to make a difference between the causative and the caused motion constructions, we adopt a different perspective in this paper, motivated by the following observations. First, the caused motion construction often appears with a non-motion verb, e.g. befehlen (‘command’) in example (39), brüllen (‘yell’ in 40), mogeln (‘cheat’ in 41), or retten (‘to rescue’) and feiern (‘to celebrate’) in the next examples (42) and (43):

(42) Man rettet die Flüchtlinge ins Elend. (Gallez 2020)
One rescues the refugees into the misery
‘One rescues the refugees into misery.’

(43) Wollersheim feiert sich ins Krankenhaus. (Gallez 2020)
Wollersheim celebrates himself into the hospital
‘Wollersheim celebrates himself into hospital.’

50Second, the oblique element can be a non-locative, as illustrated by the following examples:

(44) Der Pilot startet die Zeitmaschine in die Zukunft. [temporal]
The pilot starts the time machine into the future
‘The pilot starts the time machine into the future.’

(45) Maria singt das Kind in den Schlaf. (Dalmas & Gautier 2012) [state]
Maria sings the child into the sleep
‘Maria sings the child into sleep.’

(46) Umtiti köpft Frankreich ins WM-Endspiel. (Hamburger Abendblatt, 11.7.18) [state]
Umtiti heads France into the world championship end game
‘Umtiti leads France to the world championship end game with a header.’

  • 6 This example can also be interpreted as a resultative construction. As claimed by Goldberg (1995: 8 (...)

(47) Er prügelte den Penner ins Koma6. [state]
He beat the tramp into coma
‘He beat the tramp into coma.’

51If the goal is non-locative, it can express time (see 44) or a state (examples 45-47). In these examples too the verbs are non-motion verbs (e.g. starten (44)). Often these verbs express a manner or get a manner dimension in the caused motion construction, e.g. singen (45), köpfen (46), or prügeln (47).

52A third argument for the distinction between the causative motion construction and the caused motion construction is motivated by the pedagogical perspective. As the caused motion construction can be realized with a non-motion verb and/or a non-spatial oblique element, it turns out to be more difficult to learn than the concrete causative motion construction. This is understandable, especially from a typological point of view, as the caused motion construction is a very Germanic way of expression which is hardly used in other languages like e.g. Romance languages.

3.2.3 Verbless directives ‘to Z’

53The description of the German family of motion constructions would not be complete if we did not deal with a final construction which is a reduced version of the caused motion construction as it only realizes part of this construction, namely the syntactic structure ‘to Z!’ This construction has been called “verbless directive” by Jacobs (2008), it includes examples like

(48) Ab ins Bett!
Off into the bed
‘Off to bed!’

(49) Los, ins Boot!
Go, into the boat
‘Get in the boat!’

(50) Rauf auf den Berg!
Up onto the mountain
‘Let’s go on the mountain!’

54These constructions belong to direct speech; in this sense they are different from the constructions we have presented up to now. They simply consist of a noun phrase with a satellite expressing the path of motion. If the satellite is a two-way preposition, the noun phrase after it is in the accusative case for the expression of directed motion towards a goal which is itself realized by the noun. These constructions have a strong illocutionary force as they express directives and they are thus linked to constructions with the imperative form of the verb or the infinitive. An instruction is given by ‘an agent X to the addressee Y to move him-/herself towards the goal’. The construction part ‘X causes Y’ typical for the caused motion construction is not explicitly expressed but pragmatically understood as an instruction given by an agent X to Y to move him-/herself. We could interpret it as being the elliptical expression of the caused motion construction (see also Fortmann 2018, Müller 2011 and Wilder 2008).

55Such verbless constructions are typical of German; they are not common in other languages, not even in Dutch, a language which belongs to the same typological class (compare for instance the somewhat infelicitous English translations of the examples above). There are several reasons for their favored use in German. First, German belongs to the class of Germanic languages that preferably use satellites for the expression of the motion path (Talmy 2000). By contrast, verb-framed languages like Romance languages which express the path of motion with full verbs will not have so many verbless directives as they need a verb to express the path of motion. Second, the German case-marking system expresses the path of motion towards a goal with the accusative case after two-way prepositions as opposed to the location with the dative. Most prepositions used in verbless directive constructions are two-way prepositions. It is our hypothesis that the differentiating German case-marking allows for the reduced type of construction. Verbless directives abstract away from the agent and the explicit expression of the theme thanks to the situational embedding of the construction into direct speech which can be accompanied by gestures as well.

56Just as with the other constructions, the oblique element can be temporal or express a state, as illustrated in the following examples:

(51) Auf ins neue Zeitalter! [temporal]
Off into the new era
‘Off to the new era!’

(52) Rein in den Suff! [state]
Into in the boozing
‘Let’s get drunk!’

57Figure 4 presents a summary of the different German motion constructions ‘to Z’.

Figure 4. The family of directed motion constructions ‘to Z’

Figure 4. The family of directed motion constructions ‘to Z’

3.3 Why a family of directed motion constructions?

58After the presentation of the list of directed motion constructions ‘to Z’, we want to zoom in on the common formal and semantic properties between them and show that they constitute a family of related constructions. All constructions instantiate telic motion events, more specifically dynamic, not yet established motion along a path towards a goal. The path is mainly expressed by satellites and the examples are characterized by a salience of the manner of motion. In all constructions ‘to Z’, the goal can be spatial, temporal or express a state. On the basis of the common syntactic and semantic properties which characterize all the constructions of directed motion we can assume that these constructions realize the family concept described by Goldberg & Jackendoff (2004) in their analysis of resultative constructions. But in a more specific sense, these constructions also realize Wittgenstein’s (2001) definition of family resemblance or similarities – as outlined in the studies by De Knop & Mollica (2017) and Proost & Winkler (2015) – which postulates common properties between some constructions which can be shared by some other constructions. The family resemblance concept has to be understood as an “intransitive relation” (Engelberg et al. (2011)); it implies that each family member is related to other (but not all) members of the same family and that not all family members have to share the same properties (Proost 2014; Proost & Winkler 2015; Proost 2017). Accordingly, intransitive motion constructions do not contain a direct object, but they share with the transitive constructions the oblique element. At the morpho-syntactic level, the oblique element is realized with an accusative case after a two-way preposition (see Serra-Borneto 1997), but the dative case is sometimes possible after the one-way prepositions zu (‘to’) or nach (‘towards’) which also express directed motion but without any goal attainment. At the semantic level, both the transitive and intransitive constructions express a theme, in the intransitive motion construction realized as the subject, whereas it corresponds to the object in the transitive construction. Last but not least, verbless directives instantiate just a part of the transitive motion construction, i.e. only the oblique element with the proper case.

59The intransitive and the causative constructions can both realize actual, non-actual or abstract motion. In constructions for non-actual motion, a motion verb is used to express an event in which no actual motion is taking place. The motivation for this use is grounded in metaphorization processes in which more abstract events are conceptualized as concrete motion.

60The causative and the caused motion constructions are also related to each other because they both express causative events. Their verb semantics, however, differ: in the causative motion construction a concrete motion or placement verb is used, whereas in the caused motion construction the verb expresses a non-motion (but rather manner) semantics. The caused motion construction is further the realization of two processes or actions, i.e. causing and motion: the causer or agent realized as subject (X) triggers the theme (Y) to move towards Z. Caused motion constructions are prototypical constructions in the Construction Grammar model and they illustrate at their best how the construction itself makes the use of non-motion verbs possible. The following section explores the added value of a teaching methodology based on the concept of the family of directed motion constructions ‘to Z’.

4. Learning issues

61Learning a foreign language means learning constructions and not simply lists of vocabulary and grammar rules (Herbst 2016 and 2018; Siepmann 2007). Ellis et al. (2016: 298) claim that “L2 instruction needs to acknowledge the pervasiveness of constructions more than it currently does”. The idea of a family of motion constructions can be exploited for a more efficient and encompassing learning of specific constructions. Being aware of the long list of motion constructions in German and recognizing the links between them, however, does not automatically lead to successful learning, as emphasized by Weideman (2016: 130):

Teaching does not automatically convert into learning, as many teachers erroneously believe. Therefore the focus of the language teaching design must not be on the teaching, but on how the learning might happen.

62Teaching strategies which foster the learning of the foreign constructions are needed. One way to achieve this is by grouping and teaching together constructions that are semantically and conceptually related (Ellis et al. 2016: 300; Ruiz de Mendoza Ibáñez & Agustín Llach 2016) and at the same time emphasizing their relevant typological and syntactic characteristics.

  • 7 For the sake of clarity we renumber the examples here.

63If we compare the German constructions of directed motion with possible translations into the verb-framed language French – which is our students’ mother tongue – we realize that many German constructions do not have an adequate equivalent in French. German as a strong flectional language (see Meibauer et al. 2002; Thieroff and Vogel 2011) especially with the morpho-syntactic cases can express directed motion with satellites in a specific morpho-syntactic case – as became obvious with verbless directives –, whereas French uses full verbs. This is particularly true for the caused motion construction. As an illustration, let us compare some of the above examples in German and French7:

(53) Germ. Maria befiehlt das Kind ins Bett. [satellite + accusative case]
Maria commands the child into the bed
‘Maria urges the child to bed.’
Fr. Maria ordonne à l’enfant d’aller au lit. [full verb in infinitive]
Maria commands to the child to go to the bed
‘Maria urges the child to go to bed.’

(54) Germ. Maria brüllt ihren Hund auf den Berg. [satellite + accusative case]
Maria yells her dog upon the mountain
‘Maria yells her dog on the mountain.’
Fr. Maria crie à son chien qu’il doit aller sur la montagne. [modal verb + infinitive]
Maria shouts at her dog that it must go on the mountain’
‘Maria shouts at her dog that it must go on the mountain.’

(55) Germ. Sie mogeln ihren Freund ins Theater. [satellite + accusative case]
They cheat their friend into the theatre
‘They cheat their friend into the theatre.’
Fr. Ils font entrer leur ami au théâtre en fraudant. [full verb]
They let enter their friend at the theatre by cheating
‘They make their friend enter the theatre by cheating.’

64These few examples instantiate some of the typological differences between Romance and Germanic languages, as described among others by Slobin (1996 and 2017). French as a Romance language uses more full verbs to express the path of motion. This shows in example (53) in which the French version uses aller (‘to go’) for the German satellite in (+ accusative case) or in (55) in which the French verb entrer (‘to enter’) corresponds to the meaning of the German satellite in + the accusative. The French translation of (54) has a modal verb doit (‘must’) + infinitive aller (‘to go’). The manner dimension expressed by mogeln (‘to cheat’) in (55) is expressed by a gerund in the French version, i.e. en fraudant (‘by cheating’). We cannot go further into these differences here but refer to the rich literature on such typological differences (see among others Ibarretxe-Antuñano 2017; Slobin 2017).

65Now we can better understand why French-speaking learners of German can have difficulties with those constructions and why a proper teaching methodology should be developed to foster the learning of such foreign constructions (compare also Woerfel’s (2018) insights about “the impact of language-specific patterns and language dominance in bilingual children”).

5. Teaching methodology

66When starting from the conceptualization of motion, teachers can first ask how it is realized in the learners’ mother tongue (L1). A definition of a motion event given by the teacher can be helpful, e.g. which elements a motion event implies (persons or objects), what happens, how it can happen and so on (see also the definition by Bylund & Athanasopoulos (2015: 3) in the introduction). Examples can be suggested for L1, but can also be found in L2. Here too, the teacher can pinpoint some differences between L1 and L2.

5.1 Embodied teaching

67It is easier for learners to grasp and understand concrete motion constructions first and to be confronted with the more abstract ones later. This also applies to constructions where the oblique element is not spatial but the expression of time or a state. When talking about concrete constructions, this implies that in the family of constructions described in Section 3, it is best to start with the causative motion constructions. The motivation for this selection can be found in the fact that the causative motion construction includes concrete motion verbs and concrete locations as goals. The events expressed by the causative motion construction represent embodied scenes. With the causative motion construction, prepositions and the relevant case-marking can also be introduced.

68Since Lakoff & Johnson’s (1999: 22) seminal work on conceptual metaphor theory we know that “human concepts are not just reflections of an external reality, but […] they are crucially shaped by our bodies and brains, especially by our sensorimotor system”. Rathunde (2009: 71) goes one step further when he claims that “[e]mbodiment suggests that it is through our bodily perceptions, movements, emotions, and feelings that meaning becomes possible”. Embodied cognition can take many forms; it shows in visualization with pictures and objects (see De Knop & Dirven 2008), in animations (Roche & Suñer 2017: 258-316), gesturing (MacArthur & Littlemore 2008), enactment (Gallagher & Lindgren 2015; Küppers et al. 2011) or through bodily engagement and motor activation (here we can refer to Asher’s ‘total physical response’ (1982), Johnson-Glenberg et al. (2014) and Skulmowski & Rey (2018)). Last but not least, Lapaire & Etcheto (2010) combine dancing with the learning of English structures.

69Motion constructions are particularly suitable for embodied teaching, as they are concrete, they can be visualized and many actions or processes depicted in the constructions can be performed. By way of exemplification we can refer to De Knop & Dirven (2008: 308), who suggest using concrete images or objects to experience abstract motion. The example of causative motion, e.g. Ein französisches Wort in die deutsche Sprache übersetzen (lit. ‘A French word into the German language translate’) can be performed with two boxes as containers for different languages and objects representing words in each box which can be moved from the first box as L1 to the second box for the foreign language German (L2) in the translation process. This directed motion from box 1 to box 2 is sustained by the accusative case after the two-way preposition in.

Figure 5. Visualization of abstract motion with boxes

Figure 5. Visualization of abstract motion with boxes

70Another interesting intervention is designed by Even (2011) who illustrates how embodiment can be integrated in the teaching of two-way prepositions. She uses a plastic or fabric beetle, passes it to learners who are sitting in a circle. After a short time, they become very dynamic, playing and performing with the little beetle, hiding it in the class-room, and so on. The teacher can foster the learners’ dynamicity by asking questions like: “Where does the beetle fly to?” and by showing on different places in the class-room. After that Even (2011: 73) suggests extending the scenario to pictures, and finally to more abstract icons (2011: 74), as depicted in Figure 6 hereunder.

Figure 6. Abstract icons for two-way prepositions and case selection (Even 2011: 74)

Figure 6. Abstract icons for two-way prepositions and case selection (Even 2011: 74)
  • 8 But as commented by one of the reviewers, not all suggestions for embodied interventions are suitab (...)

71Such an approach fosters multichannel interconnection and concrete acting in fictive situations (Even 2011: 70). Connections between different motion constructions become visible; they can also be highlighted by the teacher8.

5.2 Scaffolding strategy

72As already highlighted by Holme (2010: 362), the learning of foreign structures can be fostered by “conceptualizing the new through the known”. The term ‘scaffolding’ has been used to designate a framework with a specific structure which allows learners to become independent actors in the learning process (see Klewitz 2017 or Wee 2007):

In education, scaffolding refers to a variety of instructional techniques used to move students progressively toward stronger understanding and, ultimately, greater independence in the learning process. (​scaffolding/​)

73Gilquin & De Knop (2016: 7) propose a concrete illustration for the scaffolding technique:

[…] starting from the use of a pathbreaking verb in a construction, learners can discover (or made to discover) how the pathbreaking verb alternates with other verbs, how the construction relates to other constructions that the learner is familiar with (in the target language or in another language, including the mother tongue) – e.g. constructions that are embedded within the construction or represent a semantic extension of it – and how the productivity of constructions can be exploited for creative purposes.

74This “instructional strategy” or “instructional technique” (​scaffolding/​) is particularly suitable for the teaching of the family of German motion constructions ‘to Z’. As suggested in 5.1, it is best to start with the causative motion construction for the expression of actual motion, then extend this to causative constructions for non-actual motion. The step towards the intransitive motion construction is small with the explanation that one can move objects or one can move oneself as well. The teacher can then point to the syntactic differences between the causative and the intransitive motion constructions. The intransitive construction can realize actual, non-actual or abstract motion events. It is only at an advanced level of proficiency that the caused motion construction or verbless directives should be taught. Indeed, a multiple-choice test performed with students of translation studies by De Knop & Gallez in 2016 has demonstrated that 50 % of the learners did not even understand the meaning of caused motion constructions. The test group was composed of 15 master students in translation studies with French as mother tongue and a proficiency level B2 in the CEFR. The test design focused on the comprehension of caused motion constructions with non-motion verbs, it consisted of 18 sentences with a multiple-choice of four paraphrases each. The 18 sentences also included 5 distractors. Here is a concrete example:

(56) Ronaldo köpft Portugal ins Finale.
‘Ronaldo heads Portugal into the final game’
Bedeutet (‘means’):
1. Portugals Mannschaft gewinnt durch einen Kopfball von Ronaldo das Finale.
2. Ronaldo bringt seine Mannschaft durch einen Kopfball ins Finale.
3. Ronaldo übernimmt durch einen Kopfball den ersten Platz in Portugals Finale.
4. Portugal entlässt Ronaldo wegen eines Kopfballs im Finale.
Ich kenne die Bedeutung. (‘I know the meaning’)
Ich kenne die Bedeutung nicht, habe sie erraten. (‘I do not know the meaning, I have guessed it’).

75The fact that only 50 % of the answers were correct can be explained by the typological differences between the structures in the French mother tongue of the learners and German as L2.

76The scaffolding strategy will allow gradual extension from knowledge of simple motion constructions towards more complex ones. The scaffolding methodology perfectly exploits the family notion of constructions. For instance, starting from a causative motion construction like Die Mutter setzt das Kind ins Boot (‘The mother sets the child into the boat’) learners can then be made familiar with the corresponding verbless directive Ins Boot bitte! (‘Into the boat please!’). The same scaffolding process applies to the following examples:

(57) Der Vater schickt das Kind auf den Berg. [indirect speech: causative motion construction]
The father sends the child on the mountain
‘The father sends the child on to the mountain.’

(58) Geht rauf auf den Berg! [direct speech: causative motion construction in imperative]
Go upon on the mountain 
‘Go on the mountain!’

(59) Rauf auf den Berg! [direct speech: verbless directive]
Upon on the mountain
‘On the mountain!’

77Example (57) instantiates a causative motion construction as indirect speech, (58) and (59) belong to direct speech, either as a causative motion construction with a verb in imperative (58) or as a verbless directive in (59). These three examples instantiate similar semantics but with different syntactic structures and with a focus on different pragmatic aspects. In the same way, the link between the concrete causative motion construction and the caused motion construction can become obvious for learners if the teacher shows parallel examples like

(60) Maria legt das Kind ins Bett.
Maria lays the child into the bed
‘Maria puts the child to bed.’

(61) Maria befiehlt das Kind ins Bett.
Maria commands the child into the bed
‘Maria urges the child to bed.’

78The syntactic similarities and the semantic differences between these two examples can be discussed: there is a connection between example (60) which instantiates a concrete motion and the more complex caused motion construction in (61) with a non-motion verb and the expression of two events, namely the command and the requested motion. These are few examples to illustrate the scaffolding strategy. For more ideas of practical interventions – more specifically for the caused motion construction – see Ruiz de Mendoza Ibáñez & Agustín Llach (2016).

6. Conclusion and perspectives

79In the introduction to the edited volume on Motion and Space across Languages Ibarretxe-Antuñano (2017: 21) recognizes more open areas for debate related to issues of motion and cross-linguistic differences. First, she claims that “what has been suggested for physical motion be extended to explain other types of non-physical motion”. Second, it should be defined “[w]hat is the importance of these theoretical accounts of motion events for applied linguistics”. The idea of a family of motion constructions brings some answers on these issues. By starting from the concept of motion and by looking at the variety of constructional instantiations, one can describe the different motion constructions in a structured and related way. Our study focuses on constructions for directed motion to a goal, syntactically realized either as a transitive (with an object being moved) or an intransitive structure (the subject itself is moving). As the description of the German examples has shown, the goal can be spatial, temporal or represent a state. Starting from concrete examples of actual motion, the description has been extended to examples of non-actual motion with an illustration of the syntactic and semantic links between these different constructions. Different classes of verbs which fit into the construction have been defined. The family concept enables us to give an overview of possible constructions for telic motion and to highlight the connections between the various constructions, i.e. the similarities between them. The family of motion constructions described in this paper encompasses just a small list of instantiations which could be further extended to include non-telic motion constructions, e.g. Peter fährt den Wagen (‘Peter drives the car’) or constructions expressing the location of persons and objects, e.g. Peter sitzt im Wagen (‘Peter sits in the car’). “The concept of ‘motion’ itself can be linked to that of ‘location’ since motion is change of location.” (De Knop & Dirven 2008: 313)

80The second issue defined by Ibarretxe-Antuñano (2017: 21), namely the application of theoretical findings on motion events and constructions to foreign language learning and teaching has also been addressed in this paper. Motion events are the result of embodied cognition which can be exploited in teaching methodology. Concrete directed motion events can be visualized and performed, i.e. they are particularly suitable for multi-channel learning which includes not only verbal, but also gestural or visual forms of expression. The extension from concrete motion events and constructions to more abstract ones can be achieved by the scaffolding strategy which is in line with the family concept. This teaching methodology is more integrative as it takes into consideration not only the syntactic and semantic aspects of single constructions, but also the semantic extensions and links between constructions and the conceptual and typological differences between the mother tongue and the foreign language. From a pedagogical point of view, this integrative approach is a “time-saving enterprise” (Littlemore 2009: 175) which is a precious asset for the teaching of foreign languages especially if we consider the limited time in the class-room.

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1 I thank Maarten Lemmens and the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on an earlier version of this contribution.

2 Recently a discussion about the nature of satellites has taken place. Whereas Talmy (2000) also included prepositions in the class of satellites, Ibarretxe-Antuñano (2017), Filipovic & Ibarretxe-Antuñano (2015) suggest discarding prepositions. Because prepositions combined with morpho-syntactic cases in German contribute to the expression of a motion path towards a goal we will consider them to be satellites as well.

3 This is not totally true: in colloquial German the verb tun (‘to do’) is frequently used to express a general motion/localization of objects, e.g. Wo hast Du die Zeitung hingetan? (‘Where have you done the paper?’). As mentioned by one of the reviewers, “tun-constructions […] are not only frequent in colloquial German, but also in first and second language acquisition (see Harr 2012)”.

4 Matsumoto (in press: 390) prefers to avoid the term ‘intransitive motion construction’ “because Self-motion covers not just intransitive sentences […], but also transitive sentences which have a Figure as their subject (e.g. Bill entered the building).” In this paper we will stick to the term ‘intransitive construction’.

5 Some scholars use the term “fictive motion” for non-actual motion (see Matlock 2004a and 2004b).

6 This example can also be interpreted as a resultative construction. As claimed by Goldberg (1995: 87-89), caused motion construction and resultative construction are closely linked.

7 For the sake of clarity we renumber the examples here.

8 But as commented by one of the reviewers, not all suggestions for embodied interventions are suitable for teaching adults.

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Table des illustrations

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Titre Figure 1. the intransitive motion construction
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Titre Figure 2. Representation of the causative motion construction
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Titre Figure 3. Representation of the caused motion construction
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Titre Figure 4. The family of directed motion constructions ‘to Z’
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Titre Figure 5. Visualization of abstract motion with boxes
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Titre Figure 6. Abstract icons for two-way prepositions and case selection (Even 2011: 74)
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Sabine De Knop, « Expressions of motion events in German: an integrative constructionist approach for FLT »CogniTextes [En ligne], Volume 20 | 2020, mis en ligne le 09 juin 2020, consulté le 02 juillet 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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Sabine De Knop

Université Saint-Louis Bruxelles

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