ITRW on Experimental Linguistics

Athens, Greece
August 28-30, 2006

Spatial Representations in Language and Thought

Anna Papafragou

Department of Psychology, University of Delaware, USA

The linguistic expression of space draws from and is constrained by basic, probably universal, elements of perceptual/cognitive structure. Nevertheless, there are considerable cross-linguistic differences in how these fundamental space concepts are segmented and packaged into sentences. This cross-linguistic variation has led to the question whether the language one speaks could affect the way one thinks about space - hence whether speakers of different languages differ in the way they see the world. This chapter addresses this question through a series of cross-linguistic experiments comparing the linguistic and non-linguistic representation of motion and space in both adults and children. Taken together, the experiments reveal remarkable similarities in the way space is perceived, remembered and categorized despite differences in how spatial scenes are encoded cross-linguistically.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Papafragou, Anna (2006): "Spatial representations in language and thought", In ExLing-2006, 41-44.