Journal article

How does the environment shape spatial language? Evidence for sociotopography

Bill Palmer, J Lum, Jonathan Schlossberg, Alice Gaby

Linguistic Typology | De Gruyter | Published : 2017


This article investigates the extent to which the way individuals describe spatial relationships correlates with features of the local landscape. Drawing on empirical data from two unrelated languages, Dhivehi (Indo-Aryan) and Marshallese (Austronesian), across a range of topographic environments, we examine the linguistic resources available to speakers, and spatial referential strategy preferences across languages and environments. We find that spatial language shows sensitivity to features of the topography, but this is mediated by the way speakers interact with the landscape. This leads us to propose a Sociotopographic Model, modelling the complex interplay of language structure, local e..

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University of Melbourne Researchers


Awarded by Australian Research Council

Funding Acknowledgements

Research reported in this article was funded by Australian Research Council Discovery Project Grant DP120102701. We gratefully acknowledge this support. We are deeply indebted to our many consultants in the Maldives, the Marshall Islands, and in Springdale, Arkansas for their participation. We are also grateful to Peter Johnson for creating the maps of Jaluit and Laamu. The article benefited from the comments of two anonymous reviewers, and we are grateful for those comments. All errors remain our own.