* AQUA-motion *
Lexical typology of predicates
denoting motion in a liquid medium

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Lexical typology of AQUA-motion: A summary


Our project is devoted to the description and cross-linguistic comparison of aqua-motion predicates, i.e. predicates denoting motion in a liquid medium Ц like swim, sail and float in English, nager, naviguer, flotter and surnager in French or płynąć and pływać in Polish. At the heart of the project there was an assumption that despite the fact that the lexicons of different languages show considerable variation, this variation is predictable to some degree. To test this assumption by the example of aqua-motion predicates was even more important given that motion verbs in general constitute a part of the core lexicon of any language. Importantly, however, we concentrated more on the manner component of motion rather than on its path component Ц unlike most of the previous investigations of motion verbs (such as those of Leonard Talmy and Charles Fillmore).

Within the project's framework some data have been collected on aqua-motion predicates in more than forty languages, either with the help of a special questionnaire or by examination of text corpora. This made it possible to compare aqua-motion systems in various parameters, whose virtual presence, however, varies from language to language.

The data collected by the project team suggest a number of generalizations concerning systems of aqua-motion predicates in different languages. In particular, an important distinction has been made between the three semantic domains of aqua-motion, namely those of SWIMMING (Уactive motionФ), SAILING (motion of vessels or aboard a vessel) and FLOATING (Уpassive motionФ). Some languages manifest further distinctions, especially in the domain of FLOATING, where occasionally one can observe a contrast between drift and being on the surface.

The distinction between SWIMMING, SAILING and FLOATING shows itself in the composition of the aqua-motion lexicon and certain (semantic and grammatical) properties of particular aqua-motion predicates but also, for example, in certain tendencies governing the distribution of general verbs of motion such as 'come' and 'go' (which apparently prefer the SAILING domain) and metaphorical extensions of aqua-motion verbs. The borderlines between the three domains are not always clear-cut, however, and this points to the fact that in reality these domains are only the result of interplay of several semantic parameters (e.g., controllability, the presence of special efforts etc.). Such parameters manifest themselves also within the semantic domains, which occasionally display some heterogeneity.

At the same time, the distinction between SWIMMING, SAILING and FLOATING appears to be a suitable basis for the typology of aqua-motion systems describing them in terms of their УrichnessФ and УpoornessФ, depending on whether a system elaborates on some of the domains or conversely neutralizes certain basic distinctions. Curiously, the typology attributing aqua-motion systems to standard, poor and rich ones turns out to be a useful tool not only in characterization of a language but also in establishing relations between a language's cultural and geographical environment and its lexicon (thus, for instance, poor systems are found predominantly in languages of peoples, for which the very role of aqua-motion is extremely low; cf. the aqua-motion systems of Caucasian mountain-dwellers).

The volume "Glagoly dvizhenija v vode: Leksicheskaja tipologija" [Verbs of aqua-motion: lexical typology] was prepared during the project and published by the Indrik publishing house in early 2007. It consists of ten parts and an appendix. The first part includes three papers devoted to general issues. A paper by Vladimir Plungian and Ekaterina Rakhilina focuses on the goals and peculiarities of lexical typology (as compared to grammatical typology) and summarizes its main principles. A paper by the editors, Timur Maisak and E. Rakhilina outlines the major distinctions found within and among aqua-motion systems as well as overall tendencies for combining various senses in a single lexeme. The final paper of this part written by E. Rakhilina elaborates on cross-linguistic regularities in metaphorical extensions of aqua-motion verbs.

Next follow those parts that give detailed portraits of individual aqua-motion systems. These parts are organized on the basis of linguistic areas and include those devoted to

The appendix contains a paper by V. Plungian and E. Rakhilina, who show that the expression of the different, yet semantically related zone of FLYING can coincide not only with that of aqua-motion but also with the expression of jumping and falling. Thus, this paper makes a bridge between the zone of aqua-motion and other lexical zones.

The volume can be ordered via the NINA Book Gallery (e-mail: nina_dom@mtu-net.ru).

In general, the authors hope that despite the fact that our project is only the first experience of this kind of investigation, it nevertheless may provide useful methodology for future studies in lexical typology.


Timur Maisak & Ekaterina Rakhilina


The web-site was created in 2006, with financial support from
Russian Foundation for Basic Research
(grant # 05-06-80400a)

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