[Lingtyp] Testing a generalization about spatial reference frames

Dmitry Nikolaev dsnikolaev at gmail.com
Fri Mar 5 08:36:07 UTC 2021

Dear Juergen,

I don't know what level of conventionalisation you are looking for, but
speakers of Russian, at least those who grew up in large cities, tend in
general to avoid using geocentric terms and feel uncomfortable using them,
and if it is at all possible to say "The lake is to the right of the hill",
I would personally do so. A quick googling showed that this phraseology is
quite frequent in route descriptions, and this YouTube video literally
advertises a plot of land "to the left of lake Veselovka".

My best,

On Fri, 5 Mar 2021 at 07:26, Bohnemeyer, Juergen <jb77 at buffalo.edu> wrote:

> Dear all — I’d like to solicit your help with a generalization. I’m
> wondering whether anybody is aware of a counterexample:
> It is well known that there are communities whose members regularly use
> geocentric terms in reference to the speaker’s own body, as in
> (1) ‘My western/downhill arm hurts’.
> E.g., Laughren (1978) mentions this phenomenon in reference to Warlpiri.
> Levinson (2003: 4) notes that the practice exists among speakers of Guugu
> Yimithirr (Pama-Nyungan, Queensland). Haun & Rapold (2011) present an
> experimental study of the practice with speakers of ≠Akhoe Hai||om
> (Khoekhoe, Namibia).
> Now, I’m interested in what you might consider something of an inverse of
> this kind of use: the use of relative frames at the geographic scale, as in
> (2) ‘The lake is to the right of the hill’
> My generalization is that there doesn’t seem to be any community in which
> the type of use exemplified by (2) is conventional.
> That is to say, of course we can easily imagine situations in which
> English speakers might exchange something like (2):
> * A speaker looking at the lake and hill might use (2) to describe what
> she sees to an interlocutor who doesn’t have visual access to the scene.
> The speaker might use relative language in this case in order to produce a
> vivid image of the scene as it presents itself to her.
> * A speaker looking at representations of the hill and lake on a map might
> use (2) metonymically.
> However, I’m unaware of a community in which something like (2) would be a
> conventional way of locating landscape entities with respect to one another
> in the absence of visual access to (representations of) them.
> (One could argue that (2) is pragmatically semi-infelicitous in such a
> context since the truth of (2) depends on the location of the observer,
> which is usually more variable than that of the hill and lake. However,
> even though the truth of (1) similarly changes with the speaker’s
> orientation, it is presumed to be an entrenched strategy for this context
> in several cultures. My interest is partly in this asymmetry.)
> I’m curious whether people are aware of counterexamples.
> Thanks! — Juergen
> Haun, D. M. B. & C. J. Rapold. (2011). Variation in memory for body
> movements across cultures. Current Biology 19(23): R1068-1069.
> Laughren,M. (1978). Directional terminology in Warlpiri. in Th. Le and M.
> McCausland (eds.), Working papers in language and linguistics, 8: 1–16.
> Launceston: Tasmanian College of Advanced Education.
> Levinson, S. C. (2003). Space in language and cognition. Cambridge: CUP.
> --
> Juergen Bohnemeyer (He/Him)
> Professor, Department of Linguistics
> University at Buffalo
> Office: 642 Baldy Hall, UB North Campus
> Mailing address: 609 Baldy Hall, Buffalo, NY 14260
> Phone: (716) 645 0127
> Fax: (716) 645 3825
> Email: jb77 at buffalo.edu
> Web: http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~jb77/
> Office hours will be held by Zoom. Email me to schedule a call at any
> time. I will in addition hold Tu/Th 4-5pm open specifically for remote
> office hours.
> There’s A Crack In Everything - That’s How The Light Gets In
> (Leonard Cohen)
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