Constructing Spatial Concepts from Universal Primitives

Abstract

Spatial terms such as on and in are found in every language, and psychologists have suggested that the meanings of these terms may be constructed from a universal set of spatial primitives. We develop a computational version of this idea and explore whether the primitives typically proposed are sufficient to account for the meanings of spatial terms across languages. We compare a model where spatial terms correspond directly to primitives with models that represent spatial terms as discrete or weighted combinations of primitives. Our results suggest that combinations play an critical role, and we find limited evidence for weighted combinations.


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