Academic Article Review: “Crosslinguistic Effects in Categorization and Construal”

Written for an Applied Linguistics Master’s Course: Theories and Principles of Language Teaching


     The article that will be the focus of discussion in this review is entitled “Crosslinguistic effects in categorization and construal.” It was written by Scott Jarvis as an introduction to a special edition of Bilingualism: Language and Cognition. It is important to note to the reader that I cannot critique this article to the standards of the APLING 605 rubric for various reasons. First, the article is not a presentation of original research done by Scott Jarvis himself. Though he does have original research presented in a later article within this special issue, this article merely serves as an introduction. Second, the purpose of the article is to equip the reader with the foundational knowledge of how theory and research related to conceptual transfer has developed over time. Lastly, he presents the reader with basic information on  other researchers who will present their findings in the articles following this introduction. In this review, I will discuss the overall definition of conceptual transfer and the main topics presented in relation to it.

     Conceptual transfer is first presented by Jarvis as a theory in SLA research that has gained a lot of attention in the recent past. This current growth in attention is the result of previous studies done on the relationship between cognition and language in bilinguals which changed from a focus on linguistic features that arise from the cognitive and language relationship to a focus on both linguistic and non-linguistic features. Broadening the spectrum of research on the relationship between cognition and language learning to include both linguistic (phonological, syntactical, etc.) and non-linguistic (conveying meaning, intentions, etc.) features created a clearer view of how language backgrounds affect how one uses each language to express different concepts. Cross-linguistic effects that result from cognitive and conceptual differences between two or more languages are the focal point of this area of study.

     To help the reader understand conceptual transfer more comprehensively, Jarvis defines it in three ways. The first definition illustrates conceptual transfer as an observation that shows how a bi- or multilingual person uses his or her knowledge of languages to express ideas related to objects, events, relationships, etc. conceptually in different ways. Jarvis elaborates on this definition with empirical evidence provided by a number of researchers who found that bilinguals from different language backgrounds often reacted to the same stimuli in different ways in regards to spatial relationships, attributes, motion and event structure, etc. He also illustrates how people from different language backgrounds differ in the types of information they will or will not share during discourse. Research done by Panos Athanasopoulos and his colleagues as well as research done by Aneta Pavlenko and Barbara Malt further illustrate this first definition of conceptual transfer. Their work focuses mainly on how English language learners perceive and identify objects and ideas in light of the cross-linguistic phenomena.

     Secondly, conceptual transfer is defined as an approach to research. In other words, research done through the lens of cognitive linguistics and, to some extent, cognitive psychology takes into consideration the influence that cross-linguistics has on its findings. Although cross-linguistic theory has not yet been considered by all theories within the cognitive linguistics paradigm, research related to cognitive grammar, conceptualist semantics and metaphor theory are a few examples of many that take cross-linguistics into consideration. The final four studies that Jarvis introduces in his introductory article help to illustrate this third definition on conceptual transfer as they focus on how grammatical aspects and patterns are expressed in conjunction with event construal. It should also be mentioned, however, that these studies also help to illustrate the first definition of conceptual transfer.

     The third definition views conceptual transfer as a hypothesis. This hypothesis attempts to understand how a person’s use of one language is influenced by his or her understanding of mental concepts and patterns of conceptualization in the other language. It is from this theory that Jarvis further defines the terms concepts and conceptualization in respect to the research articles that follow this introduction. The idea of concept in this special issue can be briefly defined as the process by which a person creates internal categories of mental representations as they relate to objects, sensations, actions, events, etc. These mental representations are of course subject to change and adapt as one learns new things. In general terms, the idea of conceptualization is defined as the next step from concepts: one takes what mental representations he or she has stored and utilizes one or more of those concepts to react or engage in specific situations.

     Jarvis also clarifies the relationship between conceptual transfer with theory related to thinking-for-speaking and linguistic relativity. Though he first acknowledges the overlaps that exist between these ideas and conceptual transfer, Jarvis makes a few points on how conceptual transfer can be distinguished from them. In regards to thinking-for-speaking, conceptual transfer extends beyond this theory in three main ways. First, conceptual transfer does not focus solely on how language specificity functions internally (i.e., in preparing for communication). Second, conceptual transfer takes into consideration how information can be stored in the mind differently. Third, conceptual transfer considers how language specificity can be expressed in non-linguistic ways (e.g. event recall, perception, etc.).

     The introduction as a whole was an exhilarating and informative read. It gave an exemplary comprehensive view of conceptual transfer as a theory and of concepts and ideas that commonly thread through research related to this theory. I am interested to read further into how cross-linguistics within the realm of conceptual transfer is illustrated in the research presented in this special issue. From the information presented by Jarvis in this introductory article, I think applied linguists and educators alike would be intrigued to read further into this issue in order to gain a better understanding of how bilingualism functions and how it affects both internal processes and external expressions of language.


Jarvis, S. (2010). Conceptual transfer: Crosslinguistic effects in categorization and construal. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 14 (1), 1-8.

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