Stephen C. Levinson


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  • Brown, P., & Levinson, S. C. (1992). 'Left' and 'right' in Tenejapa: Investigating a linguistic and conceptual gap. Zeitschrift für Phonetik, Sprachwissenschaft und Kommunikationsforschung, 45(6), 590-611.


    From the perspective of a Kantian belief in the fundamental human tendency to cleave space along the three planes of the human body, Tenejapan Tzeltal exhibits a linguistic gap: there are no linguistic expressions that designate regions (as in English to my left) or describe the visual field (as in to the left of the tree) on the basis of a plane bisecting the body into a left and right side. Tenejapans have expressions for left and right hands (xin k'ab and wa'el k'ab), but these are basically body-part terms, they are not generalized to form a division of space. This paper describes the results of various elicited producton tasks in which concepts of left and right would provide a simple solution, showing that Tenejapan consultants use other notions even when the relevant linguistic distinctions could be made in Tzeltal (e.g. describing the position of one's limbs, or describing rotation of one's body). Instead of using the left-hand/right-hand distinction to construct a division of space, Tenejapans utilize a number of other systems: (i) an absolute, 'cardinal direction' system, supplemented by reference to other geographic or landmark directions, (ii) a generative segmentation of objects and places into analogic body-parts or other kinds of parts, and (iii) a rich system of positional adjectives to describe the exact disposition of things. These systems work conjointly to specify locations with precision and elegance. The overall system is not primarily egocentric, and it makes no essential reference to planes through the human body.
  • De León, L., & Levinson, S. C. (Eds.). (1992). Space in Mesoamerican languages [Special Issue]. Zeitschrift für Phonetik, Sprachwissenschaft und Kommunikationsforschung, 45(6).
  • Levinson, S. C. (1992). Activity types and language. In P. Drew, & J. Heritage (Eds.), Talk at work: Interaction in institutional settings (pp. 66-100). Cambridge University Press.
  • Levinson, S. C. (1992). Primer for the field investigation of spatial description and conception. Pragmatics, 2(1), 5-47.
  • Levinson, S. C., Brown, P., Danzinger, E., De León, L., Haviland, J. B., Pederson, E., & Senft, G. (1992). Man and Tree & Space Games. In S. C. Levinson (Ed.), Space stimuli kit 1.2 (pp. 7-14). Nijmegen: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. doi:10.17617/2.2458804.


    These classic tasks can be used to explore spatial reference in field settings. They provide a language-independent metric for eliciting spatial language, using a “director-matcher” paradigm. The Man and Tree task deals with location on the horizontal plane with both featured (man) and non-featured (e.g., tree) objects. The Space Games depict various objects (e.g. bananas, lemons) and elicit spatial contrasts not obviously lexicalisable in English.
  • Levinson, S. C., & Annamalai, E. (1992). Why presuppositions aren't conventional. In R. N. Srivastava (Ed.), Language and text: Studies in honour of Ashok R. Kelkar (pp. 227-242). Dehli: Kalinga Publications.

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