Interdisziplinäres Zentrum für Kognitive Sprachforschung

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Spatial cognition and its expression in language and gesture: a developmental view

Spatial cognition is a central property of human cognition. It is probably one of the earliest cognitive domains in evolution, but also, it affects other domains of cognition like time (Levinson 2003). Despite the fundamental importance of spatial cognition for the human mind, and despite the fact that it seemed likely that space was a prime candidate for universals because it is visually perceptible, it turned out that languages differ vastly in how they encode spatial relations. First, there is a basic divide between relative and absolute languages, i.e., languages that encode space from a deictic center (to the left of, in front of) as opposed to absolute landmarks (northwards, mountainwards). Furthermore, languages differ as to which aspects of motion events are encoded at all, and how they are encoded. Talmy (1985) distinguished satellite and verb framed languages depending on whether they encode directional information in the verb stem or in verbal particles.

The crosslinguistic variability of spatial language entails that children have to be sensitive to the linguistic type they are acquiring, and crosslinguistic research has indeed shown that children's conceptual system is malleable and sensitive to various types of spatial language (Bowerman & Choi 2003).

In this session we will extend the findings from early first language acquisition to second language acquisition (including the influence of the second language on the first). Moreover, the role of gesture is included as well, because gestures can accompany or complement verbal information. The papers in this session will address these issue from a cross-linguistic perspective, focussing on how spatial language evolves in first and second language acquisition, and how verbal language interacts with gesture.