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The Big Event: New insights into the event integration framework

The Big Event is a two-day linguistic symposium devoted to the latest developments of the event integration theory formulated by Prof. Leonard Talmy. After a successful first day on 25 February, the second day will be held on 29 April 2022.

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The Big Event is a two-day linguistic symposium devoted to the latest developments of the event integration theory formulated by Prof. Leonard Talmy. Following a successful first day on 25 February, the second day will be held on 29 April 2022.

Held online from 9:00 to 13:00 on 25 Feb 2022, the first day was the opportunity to get the latest insights and findings in the field, which five experts shared with an international audience of over 110.

Dr Jill Hohenstein (Reader in Psychology and Language Development in the School of Education Language & Communication, and Associate Dean of the Centre of Doctoral Studies in the Faculty of Social Sciences & Public Policy, King’s College London), opened the event. She stressed how the event integration theory has, over the last three decades, continuously inspired research in multiple disciplines including language typology, cognitive linguistics, psycholinguistics, neuroscience, among many others.

We were thrilled that Prof. Leonard Talmy (New York State University at Buffalo, USA) himself joined us to deliver a keynote speech on the new and neglected aspects of event structure, which pointed out some promising directions for future research.

As observed by Prof. Talmy, academic attention on the event integration theory has been primarily focused on motion events and how different aspects of motion are conflated. It would be exciting to extend the exploration into other event domains. Moreover, the various relations between conflated events also warrants further investigation.

Prof. Jordan Zlatev (Lund University, Sweden) and Dr Johan Blomberg (University of Gothenburg, Sweden) then presented their expansion of the original event integration theory with evidence collected from English, Swedish, Thai, and Telugu.

After a short break, Prof. Eva Soroli (University of Lille and Sorbonne University, France) showcased how the way different languages express motion can impact speakers’ eye movements when observing motion events, demonstrating the bond between language and cognition.

The final presenter was Prof. Fuyin Thomas Li (Beihang University, China), who investigated how the event integration theory, originally proposed on a synchronic basis, was also borne out by the diachronic evolution of language, citing Chinese as an example.

The talks at the event were interlinked by 15-minute interactions between the speakers and audience, fostering further interesting ideas and discussions. Dr Jill Hohenstein wrapped up the event by summarising the highlights of the talks and announcing Day 2 of the series.

Scheduled to take place online on 29 April 2022 from 13:00 to 17:00, Day 2 will examine the event integration theory with an empirical focus and in more diverse event domains.

Please register here if you are interested in attending Day 2.

What is the event integration theory?

The event integration theory provides a conceptual framework for understanding how streams of action are combined into event representations.

Event integration is a highly common phenomenon in everyday language use. The human mind excels at identifying relations between events and linguistically connecting them in the form of so-called ‘macro-events’.

For example, the sentence The bottle floated out of the cave is a macro-event combining the floating action of the bottle and the path traced by the bottle. World languages fall into several types when linguistically expressing macro-events. In Romance languages such as French and Spanish, the floating manner and the exiting path in the boat scene above cannot be characteristically condensed into a single verb phrase. Rather, the idiomatic description of the scene in Spanish would be to omit the manner information altogether by saying La botella salió de la cueva (‘The bottle exited the cave’); if manner needs to be expressed, it can only be realised as an adverbial, flotando (‘floating’), which cannot enter the structure of the verb phrase.

This cross-linguistic distinction outlined above, though seemingly a trivial grammatical issue, underlies robust differences in event representations in the mind.

A vast body of research inspired by the event integration theory has shown that linguistic distinctions in event descriptions influence how attention is allocated during event observation, how events are remembered and categorised, how gesture reflects thought, with evidence gathered from a wide range of languages and diverse populations such as children, adults, native speakers, second language learners, people with speech disorders, and so on.

In this story

Jill Hohenstein

Jill Hohenstein

Reader in Psychology and Language Development

Xinyan Kou

Xinyan Kou

PhD Candidate


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