How Spoken Language and Signed Language Structure Space Differently

  • Leonard Talmy
Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 2205)


Linguistic research to date has determined many of the factors that structure the spatial schemas found across spoken languages. It is now feasible to integrate these factors and to determined the comprehensive system they constitute for spatial structuring in spoken language. This system is characterized by several features: It has a relatively closed universally available inventory of fundamental spatial elements that are combined to form whole schemas. It has a relatively closed set of categories that these elements appear in. And it has a relatively closed small number of particular elements in each category, hence, of spatial distinctions that each category can ever mark. An examination of signed language shows that its structural representation of space systematically differes from that in spoken language in the direction of what appear to be the structural characteristics of scene parsing in visual perception. Such differences include the following: Signed language can mark finer spatial distinctions with its inventory of more structural elements, more categories, and more elements per category. It represent these distinctions independently in the expression, not bundled together into “pre-packaged” schemas. And its spatial representations are largely iconic with visible spatial characteristics. The findings suggest that instead of some discrete whole-language module, spoken language and signed language are both based on some more limited core linguistic system that then connects with different further subsystems for the full funtioning of the two different language modalities.


Language Modality Ground Object Spatial Schema Spatial Element Signed Language 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Leonard Talmy
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Linguistics and Center for Cogonitive Science University at BuffaloState University of New YorkUSA

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