Friday, April 1st at 3:00PM, location TBA
Frames of reference in discourse: Spatial descriptions in Bashkir (Turkic)
Cross-linguistic and individual variation in the use of spatial reference frames has been one of the central questions in the study of semantic typology (Pederson et al. 1998; Levinson 2003, inter alia). It is well-known that languages vary in the way locative expressions refer to asymmetries defining major spatial axes: front and back, for example, can be defined with respect to the Ground’s internal asymmetry (sitting in front of a TV) or with respect to the position of an external observer (the fork is in front of the plate). It is normal for speakers to use multiple frames of reference with the same spatial expression, sometimes switching from one frame to another within the same utterance (Bohnemeyer 2011). The nature of this variation, however, is understudied, and very little is known about factors that make individual speakers prefer one frame of reference over others.
In this talk, I will present an ongoing study of the use of reference frames by speakers of Bashkir, a Turkic language spoken in Russia. I explore the inventory of devices employed for describing spatial relations in an experimental task and discuss the role of factors such as education and bilingualism in the choice of reference frames. While variation in reference frame use in linguistic descriptions has been previously suggested to reflect the use of different cognitive strategies (Levinson 1996; Majid et al. 2004), I find no correlation between speakers’ performance in verbal and non-verbal tasks (cf. Li & Gleitman 2002). In verbal interaction, speakers show high levels of flexibility in the use of different frames of reference, and work together actively to converge on a common reference frame for individual spatial expressions.
The study is part of an international collaboration aimed at exploring cross-cultural variation in spatial cognition (NSF-BCS-1053123).
Bohnemeyer, Juergen. 2011. Spatial frames of reference in Yucatec: Referential promiscuity and task-specificity. Language Sciences 33(6): 892-914.
Levinson, Stephen C. 1996. Frames of reference and Molyneux’s question: Crosslinguistic evidence. Paul Bloom (ed.) Language and Space. MIT Press, 109-169.
Levinson, Stephen C. 2003. Space in Language and Cognition: Explorations in cognitive diversity. Cambridge University Press.
Li, Peggy & Lila Gleitman. 2002. Turning the tables: Language and spatial reasoning. Cognition 83(3): 265-294.
Majid, Asifa, et al. 2004. Can language restructure cognition? The case for space. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 8(3): 108-114.
Pederson, Eric, et al. 1998. Semantic typology and spatial conceptualization. Language 74(3): 557-589.