Spatial language and spatial representation: A cross-linguistic comparison

Edward Munnich, Barbara Landau, Barbara Anne Dosher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

104 Scopus citations


We examined the relationship between spatial language and spatial memory by comparing native English, Japanese, and Korean speakers' naming of spatial locations and their spatial memory for the same set of locations. We focused on two kinds of spatial organization: axial structure of the reference object, and contact/support with respect to its surface. The results of two language (naming) tasks showed similar organization across the three language groups in terms of axial structure, but differences in organization in terms of contact/support. In contrast, the results of two memory tasks were the same across language groups for both axial structure and contact/support. Moreover, the relationship between spatial language and spatial memory in the two sets of tasks did not show a straightforward isomorphism between the two systems. We conclude that spatial language and spatial memory engage the same kinds of spatial properties, suggesting similarity in the foundations of the two systems. However, the two systems appear to be partially independent: the preservation of particular spatial properties was not mandatory across languages, nor across memory tasks, and cross-linguistic differences in spatial language did not lead to differences in the non-linguistic encoding of location. We speculate that the similarity in linguistic and non-linguistic representations of space may emerge as a functional consequence of negotiating the spatial world.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)171-208
Number of pages38
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2001


  • Cross-linguistic comparison
  • Spatial language
  • Spatial representation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Spatial language and spatial representation: A cross-linguistic comparison'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this