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Abstract Graf

I’m fed up with Marmite – I’m moving on to Vegemite. What happens to and in spatial language development after the very first years?

The ontogenetic path children take in learning to encode spatial relations during first language acquisition has inspired a vast amount of research over the years. Of great interest has thereby been the question how language-specific characteristics such as a satellite- or verb-framed typology influence the acquisition process of the category SPACE, whose importance and ubiquity in human thought and language is universally observable and acknowledged.

Whereas the majority of both inter- and intralinguistic studies on spatial language acquisition concentrate on children’s development during their very first years, later stages of spatial language development have received hardly any attention. This is not surprising in the light of a general lack of interest in language development after school age and puberty (but see e.g. Nippold 21998; Karmiloff & Karmiloff-Smith 2001; Berman (ed.) 2004). However, it seems hard to believe that children manage adult-like spatial reference during the core years of language acquisition research.

Another prevailing feature in most studies on spatial language development is their concentration on the acquisition of literal spatial language in proper spatial contexts. Very little research, in contrast, is found on children’s use of space in non-spatial, metaphorical contexts. Studies interested in the acquisition of metaphorical language primarily analyse children’s metaphors as instances of figurative language, not as a basic human means of intellectually accessing abstract phenomena. In view of the immense attention space has received in other fields as a primary ontological source domain for metaphorical extensions onto abstract domains such as TIME, it might be rewarding to bring this aspect more to the forefront in spatial language acquisition research.

In my paper I want to present findings from a corpus-based analysis of spontaneous conversations of speakers between 10 and 19 years of age that hopefully shed some light on these two aspects (cf. Graf in press). The material, taken from the COLT corpus, is grouped into three different age groups (10 – 13; 14 – 16; 17 – 19) and is analyzed with the help of a categorical framework which centers on the Spatial Reference Act (SRA) and its components, the Reference Origo (RO), the Reference Entity (RE) and the Reference Relatum (RR), the Reference Field (RF) and the Reference Perspective (RP). With the help of these components, five basic spatial categories and four levels of abstraction from spatial meaning are distinguished and used on the natural language data.



Berman, R.A. (ed.) (2004), Language Development across Childhood and Adolescence, Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Graf, E. (in press), The ontogenetic development of literal and metaphorical space in language, Tübingen: Gunter Narr.

Karmiloff, & Karmiloff-Smith (2001), Pathways to Language. From Fetus to Adolescent, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nippold, M.A. (21998), Later Language Development: The School-Age and Adolescent Years, Austin: Pro-Ed.