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Dr. Jing Paul’s Study on Endangered Chinese Dialect Babao Shows Unique Characteristics in the Expression of Motion

We all move in space in similar ways. 

We run, crawl or jump. We ascend, descend or enter. 

At the same time, we talk about motion in noticeably different ways in different languages.

Findings from a new study—headed by Dr. Jing Paul, associate professor of Asian Studies at Agnes Scott—show that even dialect matters when we talk about moving in space. This new study, in collaboration with Drs. Emerson and Özçalışkan at Georgia State University contrasted how speakers of two Chinese dialects talked about motion, comparing the standard Mandarin dialect to the Babao dialect, an endangered dialectal variant spoken in a town named Babao located in a rural area of Jingzhou City, Hubei Province, China. 

When presented with animated motion scenes with both path (enter/ascend) and manner (run/jump/crawl) information, Mandarin speakers expressed both components together (e.g., “crawl-pass carpet”). Babao speakers expressed either on manner or path of motion (e.g., “crawl carpet,” “pass carpet”), thus differing from Mandarin speakers. 

Overall, the findings highlighted dialect as a critical source of variability in how we talk about motion events.

In her seventh academic year at Agnes Scott, Paul also runs the Critical Language Immersion Program and the grant-winning STARTALK summer program, hosted annually by the college.

Read more about Dr. Paul’s study here

Learn more about STARTALK, a language immersion summer experience, here.


Associate Professor of Chinese