Chapter 8. Topography in language

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This chapter re-evaluates the notion of absolute Frame of Reference (FoR) in spatial language. It reassesses Levinson’s widely accepted definition of absolute FoR as involving bearings that are fixed, abstract and arbitrary, and that absolute FoR involves a binary relation. The chapter argues instead that absolute FoR is a ternary relation, not a binary one, and that absolute systems need not be fixed, and are not definitionally abstract or arbitrary. It argues that Levinson’s definition is stipulative, and that a range of operationally identical systems exist, some of which conform to Levinson’s criteria, others of which do not. It presents a new operationally-based definition of absolute FoR which may be applied consistently across a range of spatial systems whose status in terms of FoR have been controversial or difficult to categorize. The chapter presents evidence that rather than an arbitrary abstract relation, absolute spatial references involve an anchor point or points in the external world. Formulating this as a Topographic Correspondence Hypothesis, the paper argues that absolute spatial systems are not merely anchored in, but motivated, at least in part, by the external physical environment. The paper concludes by proposing an Environment Variable Method to test this hypothesis.


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