Space in Language and Cognition: Explorations in Cognitive Diversity

Space in Language and Cognition: Explorations in Cognitive Diversity

Space in Language and Cognition: Explorations in Cognitive Diversity

Space in Language and Cognition: Explorations in Cognitive Diversity

Excerpt

This book is about the relation between language and spatial cognition. Spatial cognition is at the heart of our thinking. It has long been noted that spatial thinking provides us with analogies and tools for understand- ing other domains, as shown by the efficacy of diagrams, the pervasive spatial metaphors of everyday language, the evocativeness of place in memory, and the special role that geometry, astronomy and cartogra- phy have played in the development of science and technology. Spatial cognition probably plays this central role because it seems to be the evolutionarily earliest domain of systematic cross-modal cognition: any animal needs to relate what its eyes, ears and limbs tell it about the im- mediate structure of the world around it – foraging, avoiding predators and finding home-base require this. Yet many species operate with re- stricted abilities to pool this information freely, and human higher-level cognition and consciousness may have evolutionary origins in a special, freer exchange of information across all the modalities that contribute to spatial knowledge and awareness.

This book is especially concerned with just one aspect of spatial cog- nition, namely frames of reference as expressed in spatial language and everyday thinking. Consider a sentence like: The cat is behind the truck. It is ambiguous (or general) over two kinds of scenes: one in which the cat is at the truck’s rear-end, and another in which it is by one side of the truck, but the truck is between the speaker and the cat. In the first interpretation, behind is taken to mean at the intrinsic facet (of the truck) that we would call a back, and in the other interpretation, it is the speaker’s location that determines what is going to count as behind. These are different frames of reference (sometimes called the ‘intrinsic’ and the ‘deictic’) – based on the truck and the speaker respectively – and this book is about this kind of difference in the way in which we can construe spatial relations. This kind of distinction is by no means a shallow linguistic difference, a semantic nuance as it were. Consider . . .

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