[Lingtyp] Testing a generalization about spatial reference frames

Hartmut Haberland hartmut at ruc.dk
Fri Mar 5 10:55:43 UTC 2021

Cf. also German 'Nordsee' and Danish 'Vesterhavet' (=West Sea) which is geographically plausible (although one could argue that both are not quite identical when seen in the context of a greater map rather than from the coast).
The area to the left of the Rhine between (roughly) Neuss and the Dutch border is known as the 'linker Niederrhein'. This area is mostly famous for its savoy cabbage and its right-of-center voters' behavior, so I have heard many jokes about it properly being the 'rechter Niederrhein'.

-----Oprindelig meddelelse-----
Fra: Lingtyp <lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org> På vegne af Sebastian Nordhoff
Sendt: 5. marts 2021 11:44
Til: lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org
Emne: Re: [Lingtyp] Testing a generalization about spatial reference frames

On 3/5/21 10:18 AM, Bernhard Wälchli wrote:
> Dear Jürgen and Dmitry,
> In some languages it is quite common to speak of “left-side” and 
> “right-side” of rivers, which is an interesting in-between case 
> between relative and absolute frames of reference. In fact, despite 
> ‘left’ and ‘right’, the frame is rather absolute with rivers, whose 
> orientation remains constant. For (Austrian) German, see for instance 
> “Die Donau linksufrig zwischen Stromkilometer 1899,7 und 1901,9 und 
> die „Orther Kehre“ mit Jahreskarte!”

I might add "rive gauche" and "rive droite" for Paris, "linksrheinisch"/"rechtsrheinisch" for Cologne and, one of my all-time favourites, the two train stations in the small town of Lauf an der Pegnitz, which are called "links Pegnitz" and "rechts Pegnitz", rather than Lauf-Süd and Lauf-Nord (Pegnitz is the river running through the town).

I am pretty sure that some Europeans I know never use the cardinal directions for anything. Items on a map are left/right/above/below.

So, for your generalization

>  My generalization is that there doesn’t seem to be any community in  
> which the type of use exemplified by (2) is conventional.

I would say that a community which never ever uses cardinal directions would be a counterexample to your generalization.

Best wishes

> (https://www.bundesforste-fischerei.at/d/1017-donau-orth). So, as soon 
> as you have an impressive dominant river, you can build your absolute 
> reference system nicely with left and right.
> In Livonian, the name for Courland (Latvian /Kurzeme/) is /kura:-mo:/; 
> /mo:/ is ‘land’ and /kura:/ is 'left'. The etymology of the word for 
> Couronians is a matter of debate (as is the etymology of the Livonian 
> word for ‘left’, which perhaps is a Baltic loan), but at least in 
> terms of Livonian folk-etymology it is the land on the left side of 
> the river (unclear whether the river meant is Daugava or Lielupe, both 
> of them are quite impressive).
> In a similar sense, cardinal directions are often quite relative. In 
> German, the Baltic Sea is Ostsee "Eastern Sea", but in Estonian it is 
> Lääne-meri "West[GEN]-sea" (I have never managed to understand why it 
> is Itämeri "East Sea" in Finnish).
> Best wishes,
> Bernhard
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
> --
> *From:* Lingtyp <lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org> on behalf 
> of Dmitry Nikolaev <dsnikolaev at gmail.com>
> *Sent:* Friday, March 5, 2021 9:36:07 AM
> *Subject:* Re: [Lingtyp] Testing a generalization about spatial 
> reference frames
> 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/
>     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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