Brown, P. (1994). The INs and ONs of Tzeltal locative expressions: The semantics of static descriptions of location. Linguistics, 32, 743-790.
This paper explores how static topological spatial relations such as contiguity, contact, containment, and support are expressed in the Mayan language Tzeltal. Three distinct Tzeltal systems for describing spatial relationships - geographically anchored (place names, geographical coordinates), viewer-centered (deictic), and object-centered (body parts, relational nouns, and dispositional adjectives) - are presented, but the focus here is on the object-centered system of dispositional adjectives in static locative expressions. Tzeltal encodes shape/position/configuration gestalts in verb roots; predicates formed from these are an essential element in locative descriptions. Specificity of shape in the predicate allows spatial reltaions between figure and ground objects to be understood by implication. Tzeltal illustrates an alternative stragegy to that of prepositional languages like English: rather than elaborating shape distinctions in the nouns and minimizing them in the locatives, Tzeltal encodes shape and configuration very precisely in verb roots, leaving many object nouns unspecified for shape. The Tzeltal case thus presents a direct challenge to cognitive science claims that, in both languge and cognition, WHAT is kept distinct from WHERE.