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Description Spatial language - that is, the way languages structure the spatial domain - is an important area of research, offering insights into one of the most central areas of human cognition. In this collection, a team of leading scholars review the spatial domain across a wide variety of languages. Contrary to existing assumptions, they show that there is great variation in the way space is conceptually structured across languages, thus substantiating the controversial question of how far the foundations of human cognition are innate.

Grammars of Space is a supplement to the psychological information provided in its companion volume, Space in Language and Cognition. It represents a new kind of work in linguistics, 'Semantic Typology', which asks what are the semantic parameters used to structure particular semantic fields.

A course in Cognitive Linguistics: Conceptual integration

Comprehensive and informative, it will be essential reading for those working on comparative linguistics, spatial cognition, and the interface between them. Other books in this series. Grammars of Space Stephen C.

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But at a greater level of detail there is sufficient variation to ensure that comparable expressions in different languages scarcely ever have the same meaning and extensional range. Contrary to the literature, we will find that spatial notions are not universally encoded in specific parts of speech like adpositions or case inflections but are distributed throughout the clause. As already hinted, the answer is not always, but the distinctions exist often enough to suggest that these domains do mark natural cleavages. What we will find is that although the same kind of pragmatic principles are arguably universally in play, languages do not universally code semantically to the same level of specificity.

The Cultural Constitution of Cognition: Taking the Anthropological Perspective

Instead, what we have collected here is something of an opportunistic sample, which has arisen from the chance the authors have had to work closely together, and thus produce closely matched descriptions of the languages in which they are expert. Nevertheless, it is a happy sample, in the sense that the languages are geographically distributed over five continents, representing cultures with major variations in environment and land use.

Both small-scale and large-scale societies are represented, and there is a bias to relatively little-known languages, so that nearly all the material presented here is new, and not to be found properly laid out in existing grammars. Altogether, seven language families are represented, along with two isolates. Some regional and linguistic clusters of languages Australian and Mayan allow readers to come to their own conclusions about the importance of areal and genetic factors in semantic typology. Table 1. From a grammatical point of view, the languages offer a wide spectrum of linguistic types.

There are languages with most of the predominant word orders:. Cross-linguistic and more generally, cross-cultural comparison is fraught with difficulties. Although isolated features or traits may be readily extracted and compared, their value or function depends on the system in which they play a part. But comparing whole systems is like comparing apples and oranges, and anyway is rarely possible. Comparative linguistics and linguistic typology proceed, nevertheless, most confidently across related languages, or in areas where there are intrinsic limits to variation like phonetics or where there seem to be strong universals or limited types as in morphosyntax.


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Comparative semantics as a systematic enterprise has hardly begun — there are only isolated domains like colour, ethnobotany or kinship where we have any overall idea about patterns of variation across unrelated languages. These groupings are most easily appreciated extensionally, that is, by looking at the range of denotation for a native term; to understand the meaning or intension, we need to look at the kinds of contrasts the terms make with one another.

The Cultural Constitution of Cognition: Taking the Anthropological Perspective

The semantic domain of space is altogether more complex and abstract than these more referential domains and, as we have seen, is internally differentiated into sub-domains. Nevertheless, there are obvious ways in which to proceed. A good sample of unrelated languages will give us a sense of which kinds of discriminations are likely to be made. We can then readily compare these extensional groupings, and then not quite so readily explore the intensional principles upon which the groupings are made.

During the course of the space project at the MPI for Psycholinguistics, many specialized stimuli have been developed for exploring spatial language. All the papers in this volume are informed by these systematic stimuli and mutual discussions about results. But here we have chosen to focus on three main stimuli, as an illustration of the method and the kinds of comparative results that can thus be obtained.

Each picture shows principally two objects, one of which is designated by an arrow, or coloured yellow in the original to be the figure object, the other the ground. This is not intended to be a mechanical elicitation procedure — the investigator may need to choose alternative local items to be found in similar configurations, and a range of answers should be collected, noting which occur in which order, and which are said to be preferred or most normal.

Three or more consultants allow some qualitative andquantitative analysis of preferred solutions.

4 editions of this work

The edition used in the chapters below is the version from the MPI for Psycholinguistics the original design is by Melissa Bowerman, with supplementary additions by Penelope Brown and Eric Pederson. The book was specifically designed to investigate the maximal range of scenes that may be assimilated to canonical IN- and ON-relations and thus includes a number of scenes unlikely to be so assimilated. English, for example, might be held to have a prototype ON-relation at the heart of the preposition on as exemplified in The cup is on the table , but many other kinds of spatial relations — like a ring on a finger, a picture on a wall, a shoe on a foot — are assimilated to the same preposition.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, even closely related languages like Dutch prefer other contrastive adpositions for many of these scenes. For reasons of space, we have chosen just eight of these pictures to form a set over which the languages represented in each chapter can be compared.

Grammars of Space : Explorations in Cognitive Diversity

They are reproduced in Figure 2, with their original numbers Pictures 1, 2, 3, 10, 13, 16, 30, Authors of the chapters below occasionally mention other pictures, and the full set can be found in Appendix 4 at the end of the book. Frames of reference. The Big Outdoors and the relevance of landmarks.

Beyond language frames of reference in wayfinding and pointing. Linguistic diversity. Absolute minds glimpses into two cultures. Diversity in mind methods and results from a crosslinguistic sample.