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  • Motion and the English verb: A diachronic study by Judith Huber
  • Claudio Iacobini
Motion and the English verb: A diachronic study. By Judith Huber. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017. Pp. 472. ISBN 9780190657802. $99 (Hb).

The title Motion and the English verb: A diachronic study does not fully represent the contents of this well-written and interesting book by Judith Huber, whose main topic is the encoding of motion events in Old and Middle English. The diachronic perspective of the volume concerns the period of investigation (Medieval English) and the comparison of the available resources and preferred strategies employed for motion encoding in two language periods, Old and Middle English. However, the main contribution of the volume is the result of a synchronic approach that deals with English’s intertypological language contact with the French language, namely, the reconstruction and the explanation of how French path verbs (entrer, issir, descendre, etc.) were incorporated into Middle English. The detailed examination of the early use of the borrowed path verbs in Middle English, whose semantics were unusual for the receiving language, is of particular interest not only for the history of the English language, but also, in a broader typological perspective, for the reconstruction of the process of accommodation of linguistic elements pertaining to different typological frames. In this case, the topic at issue is the expression of the path in verb roots in a language that, typically, encodes path in satellites.

The book is a reworked version of a doctoral dissertation, based on extensive data collection. The author successfully manages to cope with the difficulty of selecting an adequately representative corpus. In this respect, a thorough discussion of the textual characteristics depending on the different typologies and textual genres is provided. Issues of a philological nature concerning the identification of both form and meaning of the words investigated are also tackled and effectively sorted out. The reference corpus can be consulted in two very useful appendices, which are available as downloads from the companion website ( The two appendices contain, respectively, the corpus of Old English (50 pages) and Middle English (172 pages), with the verbs categorized as manner, path, neutral motion, or nonmotion. The verbs are categorized on the basis of decontextualized meaning, the context in which the verb appears, the indication of the contextualized meaning, the etymology, and the prefixes with which each verb combines.

The ten chapters into which the book is divided can be grouped into four sections. The first one consists of an introduction (Ch. 1) and the presentation of the theoretical framework and relevant previous work (Ch. 2). The second section (Chs. 3–6) is devoted to the description of motion expression in Medieval English. The third (Chs. 7–9) starts with a chapter summarizing the studies on motion expression in Latin and French; the characteristics of these donor languages are important in order to better understand the context from which path verbs are extracted, and the dynamics of contact with Medieval English. Ch. 8 introduces the hypotheses, methodology, and material on which the analysis of the borrowed path verbs in Ch. 9 is based. The final section (Ch. 10) is dedicated to the presentation of the general conclusions.

The author adopts a construction grammar approach, which appears to properly accommodate an analysis of motion typology applied to single-motion expressions rather than to entire languages, and which proves to be particularly suitable for handling the diachronic data. In this regard, H’s approach differs from that adopted by Talmy (e.g. Talmy 2000), as the latter considers each language to be characterized by a single dominant strategy of motion expression. Another important theoretical choice, which differentiates H’s position from Talmy’s and which has important repercussions for data analysis, concerns the treatment of prepositional phrases. Differently from Talmy’s approach, in which prepositional phrases are kept distinct from satellites, H highlights the points in common between prepositions and satellites, and he adopts a wider definition of satellite, treating prepositional phrases as path satellites as well. This choice is based not only on the lack of clear category boundaries between directional adpositions and adverbs employed...


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pp. 188-190
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