Language and cognition: The cognitive consequences of spatial description in Guugu Yimithirr
Levinson, S. C.
Language and cognition: The cognitive consequences of spatial description in Guugu Yimithirr. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 7
(1), 98-131. doi:10.1525/jlin.1918.104.22.168.
This article explores the relation between language and cognition by examining the case of "absolute" (cardinal direction) spatial description in the Australian aboriginal language Guugu Yimithirr. This kind of spatial description is incongruent with the "relative" (e.g., left/right/front/back) spatial description familiar in European languages. Building on Haviland's 1993 analysis of Guugu Yimithirr directionals in speech and gesture, a series of informal experiments were developed. It is shown that Guugu Yimithirr speakers predominantly code for nonverbal memory in "absolute" concepts congruent with their language, while a comparative sample of Dutch speakers do so in "relative" concepts. Much anecdotal evidence also supports this. The conclusion is that Whorfian effects may in fact be demonstrable in the spatial domain.