Marta Quevedo Rodriguez
Marta Quevedo Rodriguez

Previous research on event conceptualization has shown that cross-linguistic differences between English and Spanish on the domain of causation influence how causal events are encoded and recalled. These studies revealed that for accidental events, English speakers outperformed Spanish speakers on agent memory (Fausey & Boroditsky 2011), but Spanish speakers exhibited better event memory (Filipović 2013, 2016).

To our knowledge, there is no research exploring possible cross-linguistic differences on the domain of causation between Swedish and Spanish. Therefore, we conducted a pilot study to examine how causal intentionality is formulated by native speakers of Swedish (N=20) and Spanish (N=23) when exposed to 67 video-clips depicting intentional and accidental events (e.g., bends spoon with both hands vs. while taking ice cream with spoon, bends it). The participants were randomly assigned to one of two conditions. The first condition limited the number of words (WLC) they could use to describe each video (5–10 words), whereas in the second condition there was no word limit (NWLC).

The results indicate that, when describing accidental events, both groups tended to use more agentive formulations in the WLC than in the NWLC. In the WLC, nevertheless, Swedish speakers described the events more transitively than Spanish speakers who employed non-agentive expressions. In the NWLC, inchoative formulations were the predominant structure for both groups, but more intensely in the Spanish speaking group. Another salient result is the variety of linguistic markers present in participants’ repertoire to indicate the non-intentionality of the actions (e.g., by accident, unconsciously, distractedly, but…instead, suddenly, while trying to, gets surprised, the Swedish auxiliary verb råkar or by verb choice) instead of prototypical non-agentive formulations.

Based on these preliminary results, our future research will further investigate causal conceptualization in native speakers of Swedish and Spanish, as well as Swedish-Spanish bilinguals, and its impact on agent/event memory. One of our goals is to expound an agency- intentionality continuum to determine the degree of non-agentivity necessary to establish a memory trace. In other words, we will investigate the impact not only of very distinctive linguistic formulations (e.g., agentive vs. non-agentive), but how sentence construction and other linguistic markers might affect recall performance.



Fausey, C. M., & Boroditsky, L. (2011). Who dunnit? Cross-linguistic differences in eye-witness memory. Psychonomic bulletin & review, 18(1), 150–157.

Filipović, L. (2013). Constructing causation in language and memory: implications for access to justice in multilingual interactions. International Journal of Speech, Language & the Law, 20(1).

Filipović, L. (2016). Speaking in a second language but thinking in the first language: Language-specific effects on memory for causation events in English and Spanish. International Journal of Bilingualism, 1–19.



Marta Quevedo Rodríguez is a PhD student at the Center for Research on Bilingualism (Stockholm University), supervised by Dr. Niclas Abrahamsson and Dr. Emanuel Bylund. She has an MA in Bilingualism from Stockholm University and a BA in Psychology from the University of Barcelona.  Her research interests are language and memory, more specifically, language-dependent memory and the effects of language on event memory.