Spatial language and cognition in Mesoamerica
(NSF Award No.
How much spatial information is represented in language? To what
extent do languages differ in the expression of geometrical and functional
object structure? Is there variation in the role the human and animal body
plays as a conceptual model of the structure of objects across languages? Do
speakers of all languages employ the same conceptual processes in mapping the
structure of the body into that of objects? Does the way the geometrical and
functional structure of objects is conceptualized in different languages
influence the way spatial relations are identified in these languages? And
does the way speakers of different languages talk about spatial relations
influence the way they memorize them? This project attempts to find answers
to these and similar questions, based on an investigation of the
representation of space in 15 indigenous languages of Guatemala, Nicaragua
A first in kind, this set of studies seeks to apply methods of semantic typology to
elucidate the correlations between two typologically unusual traits of
spatial language in Mesoamerica and
their possible diffusion through language contact. These are the highly
productive use of meronymic (part-whole) terminologies
for object parts and spatial regions based primarily on object geometry, and
the striking preference for allocentric
(non-observer-based, i.e. intrinsic or absolute) over egocentric
(observer-based) frames of reference. The recent demonstration of a close
alignment in frame-of-reference selection for linguistic encoding, recall
memory, and spatial reasoning has triggered a debate over the relative
importance of linguistic and cultural factors in frame-of-reference choice.
This study aims to advance this debate, capitalizing on the ecological
diversity of the Mesoamerican area, cultural factors including modes of
production, bilingualism, and education, and the possibility of a linguistic
predictor: highly productive meronym systems.
The research of the MesoSpace Project continues in MesoSpace1b,
expanding to languages beyond Mesoamerica.
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Designed by Rodrigo Romero. Updated by Randi Tucker.
© 2012 Spatial language and cognition in Mesoamerica project.