26 January - Space and Language
The Salk Institute, California
How do we talk about what we see? To linguistically represent and encode the visual world requires a crucial interface between language and spatial cognition. Most spoken languages encode spatial relations with prepositions (on, under) or locative suffixes (-lla, a case ending roughly meaning 'on' in Finnish). In contrast, signed languages convey spatial information using "classifier" constructions in which spatial relations are expressed by where the hands are placed in signing space or with respect to the body. There are no grammatical elements specifying spatial relations; rather, there is a schematic and isomorphic mapping between the location of the hands in signing space and the location of objects in real or imagined space. I will discuss the ramifications of this spatialized form of language for a) how speakers and signers talk about space, b) for how experience with sign language can enhance non-linguistic spatial cognitive abilities, and c) for the neural organization of signed and spoken languages.