Directional adposition use in English, Swedish and Finnish

Walker, Crystal and van der Zee, Emile (2010) Directional adposition use in English, Swedish and Finnish. In: Language, Culture and Mind IV, 21st - 23rd June 2010, Turku, Finland.

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Abstract

Directional adpositions such as to the left of describe where a Figure is in relation to a Ground. English and Swedish directional adpositions refer to the location of a Figure in relation to a Ground, whether both are static or in motion. In contrast, the Finnish directional adpositions edellä (in front of) and jäljessä (behind) solely describe the location of a moving Figure in relation to a moving Ground (Nikanne, 2003).
When using directional adpositions, a frame of reference must be assumed for interpreting the meaning of directional adpositions. For example, the meaning of to the left of in English can be based on a relative (speaker or listener based) reference frame or an intrinsic (object based) reference frame (Levinson, 1996). When a Figure and a Ground are both in motion, it is possible for a Figure to be described as being behind or in front of the Ground, even if neither have intrinsic features. As shown by Walker (in preparation), there are good reasons to assume that in the latter case a motion based reference frame is involved. This means that if Finnish speakers would use edellä (in front of) and jäljessä (behind) more frequently in situations where both the Figure and Ground are in motion, a difference in reference frame use between Finnish on one hand and English and Swedish on the other could be expected.
We asked native English, Swedish and Finnish speakers’ to select adpositions from a language specific list to describe the location of a Figure relative to a Ground when both were shown to be moving on a computer screen. We were interested in any differences between Finnish, English and Swedish speakers.
All languages showed a predominant use of directional spatial adpositions referring to the lexical concepts TO THE LEFT OF, TO THE RIGHT OF, ABOVE and BELOW. There were no differences between the languages in directional adpositions use or reference frame use, including reference frame use based on motion.
We conclude that despite differences in the grammars of the languages involved, and potential differences in reference frame system use, the three languages investigated encode Figure location in relation to Ground location in a similar way when both are in motion.

Levinson, S. C. (1996). Frames of reference and Molyneux’s question: Crosslingiuistic evidence. In P. Bloom, M.A. Peterson, L. Nadel & M.F. Garrett (Eds.) Language and Space (pp.109-170). Massachusetts: MIT Press.
Nikanne, U. (2003). How Finnish postpositions see the axis system. In E. van der Zee & J. Slack (Eds.), Representing direction in language and space. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Walker, C. (in preparation). Motion encoding in language, the use of spatial locatives in a motion context. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Lincoln, Lincoln. United Kingdom

Keywords:Adposition use
Subjects:Q Linguistics, Classics and related subjects > Q150 Psycholinguistics
Divisions:College of Social Science > School of Psychology
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ID Code:11818
Deposited On:06 Sep 2013 13:06

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