Verb framing

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In linguistics, verb-framing and satellite-framing are typological descriptions of how verb phrases in different languages describe the path of motion or the manner of motion, respectively.

Manner of motion refers to a type of distinct motion described by a particular verb, e.g., running, tumbling, sliding, walking, crawling, etc. Path of motion refers to the direction of the movement, e.g., movement into, out of, across, etc. These two concepts can be encoded in the verb as part of its root meaning, or in a separate particle associated to the verb (a satellite); manner may also not be expressed at all.

Languages are considered verb-framed or satellite-framed based on how the motion path is encoded. English verbs use particles to show the path of motion ('run into', 'go out', 'fall down'[1]), and its verbs usually show manner of motion; thus English is a satellite-framed language. English verbs that counter this tendency are mostly Latinate, such as "exit", "ascend", or "enter".

All Germanic languages are satellite-framed languages. Accordingly, 'to go out' is hinausgehen in German, uitgaan in Dutch and gå ut in Swedish, wherein gehen / gaan / are equivalents of 'to go', and hinaus / uit / ut are equivalents of 'out'. In this manner, Germanic languages can form all kinds of compounds, even less manifest ones like (German) hinaustanzen 'to dance out' and so on.

On the other hand, all Romance languages are verb-framed. Spanish, for example, makes heavy use of verbs of motion like entrar, salir, subir, bajar ('go in, go out, go up, go down'), which directly encode motion path, and may leave out the manner of motion or express it in a complement of manner (typically a participle): entró corriendo 'he ran in', literally 'he entered running'; salió flotando 'it floated out', literally 'it exited floating'.

Verb framing is also used in some non-Romance languages such as Turkish, Hebrew and Arabic. In Arabic, for example, dakhala rākiḍan, means 'he entered running', with dakhala meaning 'to enter' and rakaḍa meaning 'to run'.

The third language group "conflates Path with Motion and expresses Manner separately".[2] This type of verb morphology is common among Native American languages.

Examples from English and French[edit]

Romance languages are normally verb-framed, and Germanic languages, and English, are satellite-framed. This means that when expressing motion events, English speakers typically express manner in the verb, as was said before, and French speakers (like Spanish speakers, etc.) typically express path in the verb, and either leave out the manner of motion completely, or express it in a complement of manner: to take one example, "He ran into the room" is routinely translated as "Il est entré dans la pièce" or, sometimes, "Il est entré dans la pièce en courant".[3] This means, first, that the verb itself normally does not express manner in French, as opposed to what is generally the case in English; and if manner is expressed, it is expressed in a complement (or, more precisely, an adjunct) of manner, cf. "en courant".

The question, then, remains of whether to express manner or not. It is not always easy to know, but manner is generally left unexpressed when it can be considered to be self-evident and can be inferred from the context; expressing the manner then tends to sound unnatural.[4] So "He ran into the room" can be translated as "Il est entré dans la pièce en courant", because it is slightly unusual to run into a room and therefore manner should be mentioned, but translating "He walked into the room" as "Il est entré dans la pièce à pied" ("on foot"), or "en marchant" ("walking"), is distinctively odd, because it is the usual way in which one enters a room; only in a case where someone was riding a bicycle before, or moving in another unusual way, can the fact that he "walked" into the room be considered to be relevant. The same can be said for this example: saying "I’m flying to London" when on a plane is normal in English, but saying "Je vole" ("I'm flying") in French for the same situation is odd: first, because the verb is not where one should normally express manner in the first place, and also, because it can be self-evident in the situation.

This means that the choice of complement, and in particular, the choice of the preposition can also be affected: in English, the particle or the prepositional phrase (the “satellite”) is where the path is expressed, with the use of a dynamic preposition: "(walk) into (the room)", "(fly) to (London)". In French, it is the verb that normally expresses the path. Now a preposition like "à" is ambiguous between a static reading ("Je suis à Paris"/ "I’m in Paris") and a dynamic reading ("Je vais à Paris"/ "I'm going to Paris"). If the verb is dynamic and expresses directed motion (i.e., motion with an intrinsic direction), "à" can express movement ("Je vais à Paris"). If not, as is the case for instance with "voler", which expresses manner of motion, but not directed motion, "à" tends to receive a static, and not a dynamic, interpretation – "je vole à Paris" meaning something like "I’m flying – or stealing (the verbs for "fly" and "steal" being homonymous: "voler") – IN Paris", and not "TO Paris". So using the same structure as in English can be doubly misleading, as the verb and the preposition are both unusual; "je vais à/ suis en route (am on my way) vers/ pour Paris" are much better.

The opposition and its limitations[edit]

Although languages can generally be classified as "verb-framed" / "satellite-framed", not everything works exactly in that way. First, languages can use both strategies, as is the case with the Latinate verbs mentioned supra for English: "enter", "ascend", "exit". The existence of equipollently-framed languages, in which both manner and path are expressed in verbs, has been pointed out (Slobin 2004) – it could be true of Chinese,[5] for instance.


  1. ^ These particles 'into', 'out' and 'down' differ in usage from the same words employed as prepositions because they indicate direction of movement as an attribute of the motion, without specifying location; together with the verb, they form a phrasal verb. When the same word is linked to a specified location (e.g., 'run into the garden', 'go out of the house', 'fall down the hole'), it is a preposition introducing a prepositional phrase.
  2. ^ Zheng, M., & Goldin-Meadow, S. Thought before language: How deaf and hearing children express motion events across cultures. Cognition, 2002, 85, 145-175.
  3. ^ This was already mentioned in Vinay & Darbelnet (1958)
  4. ^ “Users of verb-framed languages specify MANNER in clauses with PATH verbs only when motor pattern or rate of movement is really at issue” (Slobin 2004: 8).
  5. ^ Liang Chen, Jiansheng Guo, 2009, Motion events in Chinese novels: Evidence for an equipollently-framed language, Journal of Pragmatics 41 (2009) 1749–1766


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  • Slobin, D. (2004). The many ways to search for a frog: linguistic typology & the expression of motion events. In S. Strömqvist & L. Verhoeven eds. Relating Events in Narrative. Vol 2, 219-257. Mahwah, NJ: LEA.
  • Slobin D. (2005), Linguistic representations of motion events: What is signifier and what is signified?, in C. Maeder, O. Fischer, & W. Herlofsky (Eds.) (2005) Iconicity Inside Out: Iconicity in Language and Literature 4. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
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  • Vinay, J.-P., Darbelnet J., 1958 (2004), Stylistique comparée du français et de l'anglais, Paris, Didier.