Spatial terms across languages support near-optimal communication: Evidence from Peruvian Amazonia, and computational analyses

Abstract

Why do languages have the categories they do? It has been argued that spatial terms in the world’s languages reflect categories that support highly informative communication, and that this accounts for the spatial categories found across languages. However, this proposal has been tested against only nine languages, and in a limited fashion. Here, we consider two new languages: Máíhɨki, an under-documented language of Peruvian Amazonia, and English. We analyze spatial data from these two new languages and the original nine, using thorough and theoretically targeted computational tests. The results support the hypothesis that spatial terms across dissimilar languages enable near-optimally informative communication, over an influential competing hypothesis.


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