[Lingtyp] Testing a generalization about spatial reference frames

David Gil gil at shh.mpg.de
Fri Mar 5 10:05:35 UTC 2021

Dear all,

Relative terms making reference to "left" or "right" may also be 
lexicalized to form toponyms.  For example, the country name Yemen is 
actually a lexicalization of the Arabic word for "right", drawing upon 
an canonical orientation facing the rising sun to the east.


On 05/03/2021 10:36, Dmitry Nikolaev wrote:
> 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,
> Dmitry
> On Fri, 5 Mar 2021 at 07:26, Bohnemeyer, Juergen <jb77 at buffalo.edu 
> <mailto: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 <mailto:jb77 at buffalo.edu>
>     Web: http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~jb77/
>     <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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David Gil
Senior Scientist (Associate)
Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Kahlaische Strasse 10, 07745 Jena, Germany
Email: gil at shh.mpg.de
Mobile Phone (Israel): +972-526117713
Mobile Phone (Indonesia): +62-81344082091

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