Remembering How: Language, Memory, and the Salience of Manner

Volume 14
Issue 4
Michele I. Feist & Paula Cifuentes Férez
Inspired by Talmy’s (1985, 2000) seminal work on the lexicalization of motion events, the linguistic encoding of elements of motion events has been an active area of research. Recently, Slobin (2003, 2004, 2006) refined Talmy’s typology, pointing out the differential salience of manner of motion across languages. Among the potential cognitive consequences of this differential salience of manner, Slobin (2003) postulates that manner might be more memorable for speakers of high-manner-salient languages than for speakers of low-manner-salient languages. In this paper, we take up this suggestion, asking whether English speakers and Spanish speakers will show different patterns of errors in a test of recognition for short video clips of motion events, consistent with the Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis. We observed that English speakers produced fewer errors overall, and fewer errors in responses to previously unseen items. Responses to previously viewed items revealed a more subtle effect, with the number of videos viewed at study playing a role in the language effect: English speakers made fewer errors on previously viewed items when they had seen fewer items at study, while Spanish speakers made fewer errors when they had seen more items at study. We discuss the implications of these findings for the Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis and for the role of manner salience in memory for motion events.

Key words: manner salience; linguistic relativity; cross-linguistic comparison