[Lingtyp] Testing a generalization about spatial reference frames

PAKENDORF Brigitte Brigitte.PAKENDORF at cnrs.fr
Fri Mar 5 12:16:59 UTC 2021

Well, the river Saone in Lyon is flanked by one-way streets, and the bus stops along those are identified with “rive gauche [RG]” (left side of the Saone facing the direction of its flow) and “rive droite [RD]”, e.g. “Homme de la Roche RG” vs “Homme de la Roche RD” are two bus stops at the same level and would be on opposite sides of the street, but they’re separated by the river. Don’t know about the Rhone, since I never take the bus there, but I would assume it’s the same thing.

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From: Lingtyp <lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org> On Behalf Of Maia Ponsonnet
Sent: 05 March 2021 11:42
To: lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org
Subject: Re: [Lingtyp] Testing a generalization about spatial reference frames

of course there is Paris-Rive-Gauche.
but on the other hand I'd say it's partly lexicalized.
people much more rarely talk about "rive droite", and I don't think the terminology applies in, says, Lyon with the Rhône for instance?

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From: Lingtyp <lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org<mailto:lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org>> on behalf of Tilman Berger <tberger at uni-tuebingen.de<mailto:tberger at uni-tuebingen.de>>
Sent: Friday, 5 March 2021 6:20 PM
To: lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org<mailto:lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org> <lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org<mailto:lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org>>
Subject: Re: [Lingtyp] Testing a generalization about spatial reference frames

Dear all,

I would like to support this point, that "left" and "right" can be lexicalized toponyms. There is the distinction of "Left-bank Ukraine" (Лівобережна Україна) and "Right-bank Ukraine" (Правобережна Україна), where "left" means the western bank and "right" the eastern. These terms have been in use since the 17th century.

Best wishes


Am 05.03.21 um 11:05 schrieb David Gil:

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,

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)
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