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Televised Whorf: cognitive restructuring in advanced foreign language learners as a function of audio-visual media exposure

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>2015
<mark>Journal</mark>Modern Language Journal
Issue numberSupplement 1
Number of pages15
Pages (from-to)123-137
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date29/01/15
<mark>Original language</mark>English


The encoding of goal-oriented motion events varies across different languages. Speakers of languages without grammatical aspect (e.g., Swedish) tend to mention motion endpoints when describing events (e.g., “two nuns walk to a house”) and attach importance to event endpoints when matching scenes from memory. Speakers of aspect languages (e.g., English), on the other hand, are more prone to direct attention to the ongoingness of motion events, which is reflected both in their event descriptions (e.g., “two nuns are walking”) and in their nonverbal similarity judgements. This study examines to what extent native speakers (L1) of Swedish (n = 82) with English as a foreign language (FL) restructure their categorisation of goal-oriented motion as a function of their proficiency and experience with the English language (e.g., exposure, learning history, etc.). Seventeen monolingual native English speakers from the United Kingdom (UK) were recruited for comparison purposes. Data on motion event cognition were collected through a memory-based triads matching task in which a target scene with an intermediate degree of endpoint orientation was matched with two alternative scenes with low and high degrees of endpoint orientation. Results showed that the preference among the Swedish speakers of FL English to base their similarity judgements on ongoingness rather than event endpoints was correlated with exposure to English in everyday life, such that those who often watched television in English approximated the ongoingness preference of the English native speakers. These findings suggest that event cognition patterns may be restructured through exposure to FL audiovisual media. The results add to the emerging picture that learning a new language entails learning new ways of observing and reasoning about reality.