Holistic spatial semantics and post-Talmian motion event typology: A case study of Thai and Telugu

Viswanatha Naidu, Jordan Zlatev, Joost van de Weijer, Simon Devylder, Vasanta Duggirala, Johan Blomberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Leonard Talmy’s influential binary motion event typology has encountered four main challenges: (a) additional language types; (b) extensive “type-internal” variation; (c) the role of other relevant form classes than verbs and “satellites;” and (d) alternative definitions of key semantic concepts like Motion, Path and Manner. After reviewing these issues, we show that the theory of Holistic Spatial Semantics provides analytical tools for their resolution. In support, we present an analysis of motion event descriptions by speakers of two languages that are troublesome for the original typology: Thai (Tai-Kadai) and Telugu (Dravidian), based on the Frog-story elicitation procedure. Despite some apparently similar typological features, the motion event descriptions in the two languages were found to be significantly different. The Telugu participants used very few verbs in contrast to extensive case marking to express Path and nominals to express Region and Landmark, while the Thai speakers relied largely on serial verbs for expressing Path and on prepositions for expressing Region. Combined with previous research in the field, our findings imply (at least) four different clusters of languages in motion event typology with Telugu and Thai as representative of two such clusters, languages like French and Spanish representing a third cluster, and Swedish and English a fourth. This also implies that many other languages like Italian, Bulgarian, and Basque will appear as “mixed languages,” positioned between two or three of these clusters.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-27
JournalCognitive Semiotics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • General Language Studies and Linguistics


  • semantic typology
  • path
  • composition
  • distribution;
  • conflation
  • case marking
  • verbs
  • covert expression


Dive into the research topics of 'Holistic spatial semantics and post-Talmian motion event typology: A case study of Thai and Telugu'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this