Verbs of horizontal and vertical motion

A corpus study in Estonian


  • Piia Taremaa University of Tartu


horizontal and vertical motion, motion verbs, semantic roles, verb morphology, corpus analysis, statistical methods, Estonian


This paper presents findings from a corpus study of motion descriptions in Estonian by focusing on the distinction between verbs of horizontal and vertical motion. It is based on the assumption that as language has embodied underpinnings, the experiential traces of motion conducted either along the vertical axis or the horizontal axis should also be observable in language structure. The study aims to clarify whether the verbs of horizontal motion (e.g., kõndima ‘walk’) are different to the verbs of vertical motion (e.g., kukkuma ‘fall’) in terms of their (i) semantic clausal patterns and (ii) morphological marking. The analysis of clausal patterns by means of statistical modelling yielded that the verbs of horizontal motion occur frequently in combination with Location and Trajectory expressions (i.e., in atelic clauses), and the verbs of vertical motion in combination with Source, Goal, and Result expressions (i.e., in telic clauses). Regarding grammatical behaviour, the verbs of horizontal motion were biased towards the first person and the verbs of vertical motion were biased towards the third person. No effect was found in the use of tense and aspect markers. The clustering analysis additionally showed that semantic clausal patterns distinguish perfectly between the two types of verbs (horizontal vs. vertical), whereas morphological markers of the verbs provided a more heterogenous result. The findings illustrate the richness of motion descriptions that go beyond Talmyan motion events, while also providing evidence for the embodied nature of language.




How to Cite

Taremaa, P. (2021). Verbs of horizontal and vertical motion: A corpus study in Estonian. Finnish Journal of Linguistics, 34, 221–256. Retrieved from