Interdisziplinäres Zentrum für Kognitive Sprachforschung

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Abstract 3rd ICCLS Symposium

Spatial cognition is a central property of the human mind. It is probably one of the earliest cognitive domains in evolution, is directly accessible to visual perception, and serves as a basis for other domains of cognition such as time (Levinson 2003). While space seemed a likely source of linguistic universals, it turned out that languages differ considerably in how they encode spatial relations. For instance, there is a basic divide between relative and absolute languages, i.e., between languages that encode space with reference to a deictic centre (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 (e.g. Talmy 1985).

These observations have triggered a new debate on the extent to which spatial cognition is determined or at least influenced by language. In this discussion, developmental aspects of cross-linguistic variability of spatial language are a promising avenue of research, since they open an early window on the acquisition of spatial language in relation to cognitive development. Studies have shown that children's conceptual systems are malleable and sensitive to input from different types of spatial languages (e.g. Bowerman & Choi 2003). A second area with great research potential is the relation between spatial language and gesture, since gestures reflecting orientation in space can accompany, complement or interact with verbal information.

The workshop will begin with a set of papers on orientation in space from various perspectives and then discuss current, mostly cross-linguistic studies investigating this relationship in L1 vs. L2 acquisition and in gestures.