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Language and Space

Stephen C. Levinson
Annual Review of Anthropology
Vol. 25 (1996), pp. 353-382
Published by: Annual Reviews
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2155831
Page Count: 30
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Language and Space
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Abstract

This review describes some recent, unexpected findings concerning variation in spatial language across cultures, and places them in the context of the general anthropology of space on the one hand, and theories of spatial cognition in the cognitive sciences on the other. There has been much concern with the symbolism of space in anthropological writings, but little on concepts of space in practical activities. This neglect of everyday spatial notions may be due to unwitting ethnocentrism, the assumption in Western thinking generally that notions of space are universally of a single kind. Recent work shows that systems of spatial reckoning and description can in fact be quite divergent across cultures, linguistic differences correlating with distinct cognitive tendencies. This unexpected cultural variation raises interesting questions concerning the relation between cultural and linguistic concepts and the biological foundations of cognition. It argues for more sophisticated models relating culture and cognition than we currently have available.

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