Diversity in representing space within and between language communities

Jonathon Lum, Bill Palmer, Jonathan Schlossberg, Alice Gaby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleOtherpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Few areas of cognition are as fundamental to our lives as representing physical space. However, the way languages represent space varies widely, as does non-linguistic spatial behavior. Research on spatial language casts light on the relationship between language and conceptual structure, and across linguistic and non-linguistic modalities. Most research in this domain treats languages as individual data points, typologizing them on the basis of, for example, preferred frame of reference, such as the egocentric viewpoint-based relative FoR (terms like left and right), versus a geocentric or absolute FoR (terms like north and south). The papers in this special collection demonstrate that considerable variation exists in spatial language within as well as between language communities, and that a diverse array of factors interacts to drive this variation, from terrain to group-level cultural practices and associations, from individual demographic diversity to innate cognitive biases. Drawing on the notion of sociotopography (Palmer, Bill, Jonathon Lum, Jonathan Schlossberg & Alice Gaby. 2017. How does the environment shape spatial language? Evidence for sociotopography. Linguistic Typology 21(3). 457–491), the papers in this special collection explore the interaction of factors that shape spatial behavior in language and beyond.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalLinguistics Vanguard
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2022


  • linguistic variation
  • sociotopography
  • spatial frames of reference
  • spatial language

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