The influence of native language word order and cognitive biases in pictorial event representations

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Ever since Goldin-Meadow, S., C. Mylander, W. C. So, and A. Özyürek. 2008. The natural order of events: How speakers of different languages represent events nonverbally. PNAS 105: 9163–9168. proposed that there is a preferred order in sequential non-verbal event representations (Actor > Patient > Act), apparently independent of the default word order in one’s native language, the topic has been the focus of much cognitive-semiotic research. After providing a partial review of the field, we describe an empirical study investigating the order of pictorial repre- sentations of motion events using a design that emphasized the linearity of the representations to a greater extent than Goldin-Meadow et al. (2008). Speakers of Swedish (default word order: Actor > Act > Patient, or SVO) and speakers of Kurdish (default word order: Actor > Patient > Act, or SOV) participated in the study. Unlike earlier studies, we found an effect of native language word order. The Swedish speakers preferred to place the Patient picture after the Act picture, especially after first describing the stimuli verbally. In contrast, the Kurdish speakers preferred Act after Patient both with and without verbalization. The results of the study suggest that any cognitive or communicative biases for particular constituent order in non- verbal representations are likely to be modulated by linguistic word order, at least in populations reliant on written language in their daily lives.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • General Language Studies and Linguistics


  • constituent order , word order, non-verbal representations , thinking for speaking, motion events, linguistic relativity
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-77
JournalCognitive Semiotics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Dec 16
Publication categoryResearch

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