The natural order of events

An interesting paper in the last PNAS. Susan Goldin-Meadow and her colleagues have demonstrated that speakers from very different language groups all process the order of events in a similar way in non-linguistic tasks. A point against the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.

The abstract says it all:

"To test whether the language we speak influences our behavior even when we are not speaking, we asked speakers of four languages differing in their predominant word orders (English, Turkish, Spanish, and Chinese) to perform two nonverbal tasks: a communicative task (describing an event by using gesture without speech) and a noncommunicative task (reconstructing an event with pictures). We found that the word orders speakers used in their everyday speech did not influence their nonverbal behavior. Surprisingly, speakers of all four languages used the same order and on both nonverbal tasks. This order, actor–patient–act, is analogous to the subject–object–verb pattern found in many languages of the world and, importantly, in newly developing
gestural languages. The findings provide evidence for a natural order that we impose on events when describing and reconstructing them nonverbally and exploit when constructing language anew."
Hopefully there will soon be a non gated version of the paper on Susan Goldin-Meadow's website. Until then, the paper is here.

 

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