To: Any and all interested parties
From: David Wilkins, David Nash and Jane Simpson

Questionnaire on Motion in Australian Languages

**The preliminary results from this questionnaire will be discussed at the Third International Workshop on Australian Aboriginal Languages**
(April 28-29, 1998, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, The Netherlands)

In keeping with the broad theme of the workshop, "Event representation, verb semantics and/or argument structure in Australian Aboriginal languages", on the first morning a discussion group will examine patterns of motion lexicalisation and motion description in Australian languages. In preparation for this discussion we have designed the attached questionnaire to collect relevant data for comparison. The questionnaire does not exhaust the topic, but does incorporate questions to test several conjectures we have made on the basis of the languages we (Wilkins, Nash and Simpson) have worked on. Some of these follow (in increasing degree of specificity):


Since Australian languages vary considerably in the number of monomorphemic verb roots they possess (from languages which have many hundreds of monomorphemic verb roots through to languages with little more than a dozen), we conjecture that there will be a regular pattern in the motion domain with regard to how meaning elements get unpacked from verb roots as one moves down the many-to-few verb roots "cline". Do languages at similar points on this cline also show similar patterns of motion lexicalisation and expression?


Some notions will remain doggedly lexicalised in verb roots. Can we determine a cline from (i) verb roots that all languages have, to (ii) those which break down (analytically) into sub-elements along the way?


Manner notions ('roll', 'walk', 'limp', 'hop', 'run') will unpack (i.e. have expression outside the verb root) before orientation ('enter'; 'exit', 'ascend'; 'descend'), and at the level of deictic verbs, systems of lexicalisation will look most similar across languages.


While there are many languages where motion and manner are conflated within the verb root (e.g. English 'limp', 'stroll'), we predict that in most Australian languages manner, to the extent that it is coded, tends to be coded in free form modifiers or adjuncts that accompany the main verb, but not in elements attached to the main verb. Is this the case?

The questionnaire follows. We expect that workshop participants will fill it in, but we hope that other people will be present in spirit if not in body by filling in and sending off the questionnaire (with as many caveats as you like about absence of information!).

We will circulate your information to other questionnaire returners and vice versa (unless of course you mark it "do not distribute"). We will acknowledge your contribution in any further work we might produce using the questionnaire results. We also promise to send you all products of the research as they emerge.

We would prefer it if you could send your questionnaire responses electronically to:

Alternatively, fax responses to: +31-24-3521300

Or post them to:
David Wilkins
Language and Cognition Group
Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
P.O. Box 310
6500 AH, Nijmegen
The Netherlands

For further information about the Workshop, see previous announcement on or e-mail:

Many thanks for your co-operation.
David Wilkins, David Nash and Jane Simpson

A questionnaire on:
Motion Lexicalisation and Motion Description
(for Australian languages)


The purpose of this questionnaire is to gain a first comparative picture of the lexical resources Australian languages draw on for the expression of motion, and the manner in which motion descriptions are "packaged". In the nature of our design, and our discussion, we rely heavily on Talmy's (1985) notion of lexicalization patterns, in particular his cross-linguistic discussion of systems of motion description. We are interested, for instance, in patterns of semantic conflation (that is, what other semantic information besides 'motion' may be encoded in a verb root) and patterns of semantic distribution (that is, what types of information are encoded in the different morphemes that come together to build a description of a motion event).

We will assume a "pretheoretical" understanding of what constitutes a motion event and a motion description. In this questionnaire, the primary focus is on "translocational motion" (i.e.change of location of an entity along a path from one place to another). We further restrict our focus to motion descriptions in which the Subject argument of a verb (in an active clause) is the entity ('figure') in motion (an accompanying entity may also be in motion, but that is not our focus of interest). In narrowing our focus in this way, we depart from Talmy's own manner of investigation, since he was also interested in patterns of location, causative location and causative motion.

The questionnaire

This questionnaire is designed in a "modular fashion". There are four independent modules, and we would be glad to receive answers to any of the "modules". A researcher should not feel that they need to answer the whole questionnaire if that seems too daunting. Where you do not know the answer to a question, please say so (rather than leaving a part of a module blank). The ordering of modules reflects our own sense of which types of information are more important to enable us to do some cross-language comparison.

Name of Researcher:

Name of Language:

Primary Place of Research:

Primary Data Resources:

May we distribute your filled in questionnaire?: ____ YES ____ NO

How many inflecting, unanalysable, mono-morphemic verb roots does the language possess: (tick one of the following)

___ LESS THAN 50 ___ 50 to 200 ___ MORE THAN 200

Can you give us a more precise figure? (If so, what source[s] is the figure based on?):

MODULE I : Motion Verbs and Patterns of Motion Expression

Below we present 26 English motion verbs or descriptions. We would like you to provide any (and all) expressional equivalents for the language under discussion. We are not only interested in mono-morphemic verb roots, we are also interested in more complex expressions. For instance, in Arrernte, there is no monomorphemic root for 'to fly'. However, Arrernte speakers do commonly talk about the motion of birds, airplanes and insects by combining a general motion verb and the locative phrase alkere-le
(sky-LOC) 'in the sky' in the same clause -- e.g. alkere-le alhe-me
('in sky going') = 'flying'; alkere-le unthe-me
('in sky wandering') = 'flying around'; alkere-le apetye-me
('in sky coming') = 'flying this way', and so on.
[N.B. While it would be nice to know translation equivalents, it is more important for us to know what expressions people actually use, no matter how infrequently.]

We do not assume that the following will provide a one-to-one list of equivalents. In some cases the same verb or expression may cover several notions we have distinguished on the list, and in other cases the distinctions won't be fine-grained enough and you'll need to provide several equivalents, detailing the distinctions. We simply ask you to give us as much detail as is feasible.

Please include the following information in any response:

  1. the transitivity of the verb in the expression (in relation to the meaning expressed)
  2. a morphemic break down and gloss of each morpheme in all complex expressions
  3. where relevant, an indication of any animacy or category constraints which apply to the moving entity in the expression (e.g. does the moving entity have to be a liquid?)

The List

a. "to go"

b. "to come"

c. "to return" ("to go back")

d. "to take to" ("take along"; "carry")

e. "to bring"

f. "to move" (from one place to another e.g. they shifted into the shade; they moved camp)

g. "to leave behind" ("to abandon"; "to leave something somewhere and go off")

h. "to move" ( with no overall change of location; move on the spot or about a fixed point e.g the bush is moving, his eyes/hair moved)

i. "to move quickly" ("hurry away"; "hurry off")

j. "to walk"

k. "to run"

l. "to crawl (of baby)"

m. "to fly (of bird)"

n. "to hover" ("to flutter" - e.g of hawk; butterfly)

o. "to swim" (of fish? of person?)

p. "to roll" (e.g. of ball or boulder or tumbleweed)

q. "to creep up on" ("to sneak along"; "sneak up on")

r. "to follow someone/something"

s. "to track someone/something"

t. "ascend" ("get up on to"; "to climb up")

u. "to descend" ("get down off/out of")

v. "to fall" (down from a height) [does this contrast with "to fall over"?; "collapse"?]

w. "emerge" ("exit"; "appear"; "come out"; "rise [of sun]")

x. "to enter " ("to go into" [e.g. a house, a camp])

y. "to cross over" ("go across")

z. "to pass by"

MODULE II : Motion-Rich 'Textlet' or Text Fragment

So that one can get a feel about how motion description really works in the language, could you please provide a piece of natural continuous text which is rich in motion expression, and which you feel is representative. All that is needed is a small text or text fragment of between 5 and 20 clauses in length, in which the focus is the motion of one or more of the "protagonists". Of course, we need you to provide morphemic breaks, interlinear glosses, and a free translation. It would also be useful if you could provide notes, as you go along, to any specific motion related features that the 'outsider' should attend to.
[An example will be provided. - Note that, we'd prefer it if you did not rely on a translation from English, but instead used a small text that was generated directly from the mind and mouth (or pen) of a native speaker.]

MODULE III: Grammatical Marking of Ground and Path

In Talmy's (1985:61) terms the basic components of a motion event are:
Figure = the entity that is in motion
Ground = the entity or entities that the Figure is moving in relation to
Path = the course followed (and trajectory) of the Figure (often deduced from the Ground which is specified)
Motion = the actual predication of a motion act.
So, in the sentence 'the baby crawled up the hill', the Figure is 'the baby', the Ground is 'the hill', the Path is specified with 'up', and the assertion of Motion is encoded in the verb 'crawl' .

This module of the questionnaire is particularly concerned with the way in which Grounds and Paths (including direction) may be grammatically coded. We would appreciate it if you used some of the expressions from the list in Module I of this questionnaire in glossed example sentences to illustrate the types of marking asked about below.

A. Marking of grounds

a) How are "goals" of motion marked? (i.e. what cases, adpositions, or other means are used to mark ground NPs functioning as "goals of motion?)
[e.g. The child crawled to(wards) the tree.; They returned to camp; The lizard got up onto the rock.;]

b) Can one make a distinction between 'to X' and 'towards X'? For all motion verbs? How?
[e.g. The leaf fell towards the ground. vs. The leaf fell to the ground.]

c) How are "sources" of motion marked?
[e.g. The woman moved away from the fire. ; They travelled from Sydney.;
The baby bird fell out of the tree.; The dog fell off of the truck.]

d) How are ground NPs which refer to the route or path along/on which motion takes place marked? [e.g. He's walking along the track.; The horse wandered along the sides of the fence.]

e) How are ground NPs which refer to the medium in which motion takes place marked?
[e.g. The bird is flying through the air.; The children are running through the sand?]

f) How does one mark a ground NP which refers to a place through (or via) which the figure travels in order to get to another place?
[e.g. They travelled from Alice Springs to Elliott via Tennant Creek ; She came through here on her way to church.]

g) With expressions like "enter" (or "go into") and "exit" (or "come out of"), how are the ground NPs which refer to the space "entered" and "exited" marked?
[e.g. The snake entered its burrow.; The owl came out from the hollow of the tree.]

h) With expressions of "crossing" and "passing" how are grounds indicating the entity 'crossed' and 'passed' marked?
[e.g. Those people ran past our house; A dingo crossed the road.]

i) Languages like English can string several Grounds together with one motion verb (e.g. The dog carried the meat from the creek along the path to the tree.). Other languages have strong restrictions, preferring one Ground per motion verb. Do you have a sense of how many grounds can occur naturally with a motion verb?
Is it possible (natural) to say things like:

- He went from the tree to the rock.

- He went into the house through the rear door.

- He came along the road towards our car.

-The dog carried the meat from the creek along the path to the tree.

j) If you use adpositions or case endings to express these ideas, can they occur independently as the main predicate in a sentence as in?
(If they are possible, what do they mean? Can they have motion readings or only static spatial readings?)

- The dog (is) from the tree

- The dog (is) to the tree

- The dog (is) along the road

- The dog (is) into the house

- The rabbit (is) out of its burrow

B. Path Direction

a) Are there any form of directionals (i.e. grammaticised directional elements like Warlpiri -rni 'hither, to here', -rra 'thither, to there', -mpa 'past, by, across)?
If so, what part of speech class do they attach to, or co-occur with? If they combine with verbs, are they restricted to motion verbs or can they, for instance, occur with perception verbs or speech act verbs (or all verbs)?
b) Does the language have anything akin to the 'associated motion' category discussed by Koch (1984); Tunbridge (1988); and Wilkins (1989, 1991)?
If a language has anything like this, it is usually some form of verb affix, verb compounding or fixed construction, and the most commonly coded notions tend to be 'do verb action while going along' ('she cried all along the way') or 'go/come and do verb action' ('she came and told me'; 'she went and hit him'). Please describe any phenomena that seem to be relevant.
[In a language like Adnyamathanha (Tunbridge 1988), where this category is very elaborate, you find the following verb affixes: -mana- 'come and V', -namana- 'quickly come and V', -vara- 'go and V', -navara- 'quickly go and V', -ndhena- 'V once while coming'; -nali- 'V continuously while coming';-ndheli- 'V once while going', -nangga- 'V all the way along', -enhi- 'V while keeping moving'; and -wandha- 'V and leave'.
In origin such suffixes (or compounding elements) are very often general motion verbs]

MODULE IV: What Element of the Clause Encodes Path?:

The verb-framed vs. satellite-framed typology

Talmy (1985) observed that, in motion descriptions, a language like English differs typologically from a language like Spanish, by virtue of the fact that Spanish tends to conflate 'motion' and 'path' together in the verb root, while English tends to code path in a separate (adverbial/prepositional) element which functions as a satellite to the verb. He judges patterns of expression to be characteristic for a language if they are (i) colloquial in style (rather than formal or stilted), (ii) frequent; and (iii) pervasive (rather than limited) in application. Thus, in English, the characteristic mode of expression is to say "go up", "go down", "go in", "go out" and so on, while it is less characteristic to to say "ascend", "descend", "enter", "exit", and so on. The former pattern exemplifies "satellite-framing" (i.e. 'go' provides the motion concept, while 'up', 'down', 'in', 'out' realizes the path). For languages like Spanish, verbs like "enter" and "ascend" are the characteristic mode of expression, and the verb roots can been seen to simultaneously code "motion" and "path" (i.e. "verb-framing").
[Note: Satellites to the verb-root may be affixes on the motion verb root; or clitics; or path adverbs; or particles; or preverbs]

Please try to assess whether the language you are working on is verb-framed or satellite framed (or somewhere in between or something else), by answering the following 'diagnostic' questions:

a) Are verb roots meaning 'enter', 'exit', 'descend', 'climb up' a more characteristic form of expression, in Talmy's terms, than more analytic counterparts such as "go into", "go out of", "go down", "go up"?

b) How common is it for verbs in the language to conflate both 'motion' and 'manner' [that is, are there a rich class of verb roots like 'run', 'swim', 'slither', 'hop', 'limp', 'crawl', 'stroll', etc.]?
According to Talmy, if a language characteristically conflates 'motion' with 'manner' in verb roots, it is NOT common for the same language to also characteristically conflate 'motion' with 'path'.

c) When both manner and path notions appear in a motion description, how does information get distributed among elements?
To answer this question we list sentences below which try to elicit some of the relevant distinctions. Again, don't go for word-for-word translations. Give us what you think would be the normal ("characteristic) way of expressing the idea (or something close to it). And, please include the following information:
-- the transitivity of the verb in question in relation to the meaning expressed (including the expected case on the subject of the sentence)
-- an interlinear morpheme-by-morpheme gloss

i) The child ran to the other side of the street/path/creek.

ii) The child ran across the street.

iii) The baby crawled into the house/shed/camp. [Where the "into" path is to be stressed, is the form of expression done more like: "crawlingly enter" or "crawl into" or "crawl to the inside of"?]

iv) The baby crawled up the rock [Can one distinguish "crawl to the top of the rock" and "ascend the rock by crawling"?].

v) The snake slithered into the string bag.

vi) The boy fell to the ground. [while standing on the ground? vs from out of a tree?]

vii) The rock/boy fell down into the water. (where entry into the water is stressed)

viii) The girl climbed up onto the branch of the tree.

d) Can one "accumulate" path notions with just one verb?
In English, one is not only able to string a number of different Grounds together, one can also accumulate a string of simple Path-satellites. As an example, Slobin (1996:83) notes that it is quite normal for English speakers to say things like "The bird flew down from out of the hole in the tree" (where down-from-out-of specifies the trajectory). In this English sentence, there is only one specified ground ('the hole in the tree'), but a complex of three units of Path information ('down', 'from', and 'out of'). The closest Spanish approximation would be "El pájaro salió del aguejaro del árbol volando hacia abajo" which translates literally as 'The bird exited of the hole of the tree flying towards below'. Thus, in contrast to English, Spanish, like other verb-framed languages, tends to render complex Path information through multiple clauses, since they do not allow for the accumulation of path expressions.
So, what about the language under investigation?


Please provide any other information on the language that you feel is relevant to this research endeavour. In particular, if there are publications or sections of publications concerning the language which deal directly with motion description, we would be grateful if you brought this to our attention (and we will collate and share all such references).


References cited in questionnaire:

Koch, Harold. 1984.
'The Category of "Associated Motion" in Kaytej', Language in Central Australia, 1 23-34
Slobin, Dan. 1996.
'From "thought and language" to "thinking for speaking"' in Gumperz and Levinson eds. Rethinking Linguistic Relativity. CUP. 70-96
Talmy, Leonard. 1985.
'Lexicalization patterns: semantic structure in lexical forms'. in Shopen ed. Language Typology and Syntactic Description III: Grammatical categories and the lexicon. CUP. 57-149
Tunbridge, Dorothy. 1988.
'Affixes of Motion and Direction in Adnyamathanha' in Austin ed. Complex Sentence Constructions in Australian Languages. John Benjamins. 267-283
Wilkins, David P. 1989..
Mparntwe Arrernte (Aranda): Studies in the structure and semantics of grammar. Unpublished PhD dissertation. A.N.U.
Wilkins, David P. 1991.
'The Semantics, Pragmatics and Diachronic Development of "Associated Motion" in Mparntwe Arrernte'. Buffalo Papers in Linguistics, 207-257.
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Date created: 15 March 1998
Last modified: 15 March 1998
© 1998 David Wilkins
Maintained by: David Nash