The Cultural Transmission of Spatial Cognition: Evidence from a Large-scale Study

Juergen BohnemeyerDepartment of Linguistics, University at Buffalo - SUNY, Buffalo, NY, U.S.A.
Katharine DonelsonDepartment of Linguistics, University at Buffalo - SUNY, Buffalo, NY, U.S.A.
Randi TuckerDepartment of Linguistics, University at Buffalo - SUNY, Buffalo, NY, U.S.A.
Elena BenedictoDepartment of Linguistics, Purdue University
Alejandra Capistrán GarzaDepartamento de Filosofía de la Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Iztapalapa
Alyson EgglestonDepartment of English, Eastern Carolina University
Néstor Hernández GreenCentro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social
María de Jesús Selene Hernández GómezCentro de Estudios Lingüísticos y Literarios. Facultad de Lenguas y Letras, Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro
Samuel Herrera CastroInstituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas, Seminario de Lenguas Indígenas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
Carolyn O'MearaInstituto de Investigaciones Filológicas, Seminario de Lenguas Indígenas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

Abstract

We present the results of two studies of the use of spatial reference frames in speakers of 11 linguistic varieties. A series of mixed-models linear regression analyses of the responses to a referential communication task shows the significant factors in predicting frame use to be the participants’ first and second-language, their literacy, the local topography and population density. This suggests that language can play an irreducible role in the transmission of practices of spatial reference and that such practices may be diffused through language contact. However, in a recall memory experiment, only speakers of varieties with an egocentric linguistic bias preferred egocentric responses. Both speakers of languages with a geocentric bias and speakers of varieties without a clear bias preferred geocentric responses. This unexpected finding is in line with a hypothetical mild innate pan-simian bias for geocentric cognition, which can be superseded by a learned egocentric bias.

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