Chapter 7. Linguistic relativity in first language acquisition

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The relationship between language and cognition is perhaps one of the oldest questions in the history of social and cognitive sciences. This question is presently at the center of lively debates in light of a growing number of cross-linguistic studies suggesting that language-specific factors could have an impact on language acquisition and even more generally on cognitive organization. This chapter illustrates some results in the domain of space, with particular attention to the expression of motion in two languages (French and English) that lexicalize spatial information in different types of structures (Talmy 2000). The synthesis of these results shows striking cross-linguistic differences in how adults and children (two to ten years) express different types of voluntary and caused motion events in a variety of situations, indicating that typological constraints affect how children organize information from the youngest age onwards. The discussion points to ongoing research that further explores the language-cognition interface in order to examine the potentially deeper impact of language-specific factors on speakers’ conceptual representations of space.


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