conference on SPACE in languages

Stephane Robert robert at VJF.CNRS.FR
Thu Dec 19 06:26:39 UTC 2002

We apologize for multiple mailing of this message

Space in languages :
linguistic systems and cognitive categories

Paris, 7-8 February 2003
Ecole Normale Supérieure (salle Dussane, to be confirmed)
45 rue d’Ulm, 75005 Paris

International conference organized by the research group
Linguistic diversity and change: cognitive implications
with financial support from the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique

Entrance is free, no registration

As illustrated by the Kantian tradition and by a number of cognitive 
theories, space has been often viewed as a universal cognitive primitive, 
an ‘a priori form of intuition’ that conditions all of our experience. From 
this point of view, it is of particular interest to study the linguistic 
expression of space, since languages seem to capture and to make explicit 
the constraints of experience on the construction of spatial reference. At 
the same time, language confers to spatial representations the property of 
referential ‘detachability’, that distinguishes these representations from 
those that are produced by the perceptual experience of space. This 
fundamental property of language allows speakers to dissociate and to 
choose among different components of spatial reference, as well as to use 
spatial morphemes to express other and/or more abstract meanings, such as 
temporal, causal or argumentative relations.

A question then arises concerning the primitive and generative nature of 
the category of space in languages. To what extent does space, as it is 
linguistically encoded, reflect forms of perceptual experience and which 
aspects of this experience do languages encode? Does space constitute a 
pure and primitive category from which other linguistic meanings are then 
derived? This question has been raised by cognitive grammars in general and 
by metaphor theory in particular. It is also particularly relevant in the 
light of numerous derivations that can be observed in the history of 
languages, often indicating that a given term evolves from a concrete 
spatial meaning to an abstract discourse one. What are then the cognitive 
mechanisms that allow these transitions? Inversely, some recent linguistic 
analyses argue that spatial values are neither basic nor even purely 
spatial, but rather that spatial terms always carry other values, for 
example related to the functional properties of objects, their force or 
resistance, or the goals towards which speakers construct spatial relations 
in their utterances. According to this conception, space in language is 
therefore not a primitive category, but already the result of some 
construction. What types of evidence can be brought to bear on these 
different conceptions?

Furthermore, in the last twenty years, many studies in linguistics, 
psycholinguistics, and cultural anthropology have revealed the existence of 
rather varied spatial systems across languages and cultures. These 
variations concern, for example, the nature of the linguistic devices 
expressing spatial information (e.g. verbs, affixes, classifiers, 
particles), the particular distinctions they encode, and the reference 
systems that are used by speakers (absolute, egocentric, relative). In 
addition, various studies show that linguistic and cultural systems 
determine - at least partially - the nature and cognitive accessibility of 
the information selected by speakers, thereby casting some doubts on the 
supposedly universal properties of the category of space. This evidence 
then raises questions concerning the impact of linguistic categorization on 
perception, as well as the existence of a single (a-modal) system or of two 
distinct (linguistic vs. perceptual and motor) systems of spatial 

The study of space can then be reframed in terms of several fundamental 
questions, that will be addressed during this conference from the point of 
view of linguistics (typology, diachrony, sign-language), cognitive 
anthropology, the philosophy of language, psycholinguistics, and neurosciences.

List of participants and papers to be presented

The precise program will be announced in January

Melissa Bowerman (Max-Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen)
Constructing language-specific spatial categories in first language acquisition

Pierre Cadiot (Université de Paris 8, Laboratoire LATTICE)  Franck Lebas 
(Université Clermont-Ferrand 2)
The French movement verb MONTER as a challenge to the status of spatial 

Denis Creissels (Laboratoire Dynamique du Langage, Université Lyon 2)
Encoding the distinction between localization, source of a movement and 
direction of a movement: a typological study

Michel Denis (LIMSI, Orsay)
Deficits in spatial discourse: the case of Alzheimer patients

Jérôme Dokic & Elisabeth Pacherie (Institut Jean Nicod, EHESS Paris)
Molyneux’s question and frames of reference

Colette Grinevald (Laboratoire Dynamique du Langage, Université Lyon 2)
The expression of static location in a typological perspective

Maya Hickmann (Laboratoire Cognition et Développement, Université de Paris 5)
The relativity of motion in first language acquisition

Anetta Kopecka (Laboratoire Dynamique du Langage, Université Lyon 2)
The semantic structure of prefixed motion verbs in French: typological 

Barbara Landau (Department of Cognitive Science, Johns Hopkins University, 
(De)Coupling of spatial language and spatial cognition

Alain Peyraube (Centre de Recherche sur les Langues d’Asie Orientale, Paris)
On the history of place words and localizers in Chinese : a cognitive approach

Marie-Anne Sallandre (Université Paris 8)
Iconicity in discourse, the role of space in French sign language

Chris Sinha (Institute of Language and Communication, University of 
Southern Denmark)
Mapping and construal in spatial language and conceptualization: language 
variation and acquisition.

Dan Slobin (Department of Psychology University of California, Berkeley)
What makes manner of motion salient ?

Leonard Talmy (State University of New York at Buffalo)
to be confirmed

Claude Vandeloise (State University of Louisiana, Bâton Rouge)
Are there spatial prepositions ?

Yves-Marie Visetti (Laboratoire LATTICE, ENS Paris)
Semantics and its models of perception and action

Organizing committee
Maya Hickmann
Stéphane Robert
Yves-Marie Visetti

secretariat.tul at

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