Spatial Cognition and Frames of Reference in Indo-European

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Abstract

The development of Frames of Reference (FoRs) as coordinate systems in space language hasgained increasing attention in current linguistic, neurolinguistic, and psycholinguistic research(Diessel 2013: 687; Kemmerer 2010). Previous studies on typology of spatial expressions havetraditionally been based on the universal status of the egocentric or relative FoR found in the Indo-European languages, in which the relation between Figure and Ground is specified by the deicticobserver’s viewpoint (Mühlhäusler 2001). However, there is growing crosslinguistic evidence thatmany non-Indo-European languages do not make use of such deictic or ternary FoR, but interpretspatial relations by referring to binary non-egocentric absolute (geocentric) and intrinsic (objectcentered)FoRs (Levinson 2003; O’Meara & Pérez Báez 2011). Contrary to the hypothesisaccording to which children’s spatial representations are primarily egocentric, the most recentresults on spatial language acquisition similarly suggest that children initially exhibit a strong biastoward absolute rather than relative FoRs (Shusterman & Li 2016). If one takes a historicalperspective, it can be found that spatial cognition in the Indo-European language is different fromthat found in modern European languages. After investigating the contexts of use of spatial terms ofFRONT, BEHIND, LEFT, RIGHT in Vedic Sanskrit and Ancient Greek in a comparative perspective, thispaper aims at reconstructing the proto-language spatial FoRs. Specifically, data from the Rigvedaand the Homeric poems prove that the egocentric relative FoR could not have existed yet in Indo-European, which indeed reveals traces of an absolute language. The close association between thosespatial terms and east and west cardinal directions shows a projection of the front-back axis tospatial relations according to the positions of the sun within a geocentric FoR. These findings arealso in line with recent studies on the existence of deictically-neutral temporal sequences in Indo-European space-time metaphors (Bartolotta 2018).ReferencesBartolotta, A. 2018. Spatio-temporal deixis and cognitive models in early Indo-European.«Cognitive Linguistics» 29 (1), 1-44.Kemmerer, D. 2010. A neuroscientific perspective on the linguistic encoding of categorical spatialrelations, in Evans, V. & P. Chilton (Eds), Language, cognition and space. Equinox, pp. 139-170.Levinson, S. C. 2003. Space in Language and Cognition. Cambridge University Press.Mühlhäusler, P. 2001. Universals and typology of space, in Haspelmath M. (Ed.), Languagetypology and language universals: An international handbook. Vol. 20. Walter de Gruyter.O’Meara, C. & Pérez Báez, G. 2011. Spatial frames of reference in Mesoamerican languages.«Language Sciences» 33, 837-852.Shusterman, A. & Li, P. 2016. Frames of reference in spatial language acquisition. «CognitivePsychology» 88, 115-161.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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