Modes of Linearization in the Description of Spatial Configurations

  • Marie-Paule Daniel
  • Luc Carité
  • Michel Denis
Part of the GeoJournal Library book series (GEJL, volume 32)


Speakers or writers who have to describe a spatial configuration to other people are faced with the following problem: The object they have to describe is two- or three-dimensional, but their verbal output is highly constrained by the one-dimensional, linear structure of language. Translating a multidimensional entity into a linear output thus requires the construction of a linear structure, which itself requires a series of cognitive decisions. Some important questions are: Which planning procedures do describers use to produce a description ? Can descriptive strategies be identified in speakers’ or writers’ productions ? The study reported in this chapt deals with unconstrained descriptions of a spatial configuration. Subjects were presented with the map of a fictitious island bearing nine landmarks and were asked to produce a written description of the map. The descriptions were analyzed using an ATN-based system designed to construct a representation of descriptions and to classify them according to a typology. The texts contained a variety of descriptive sequences, most of which reflected highly systematic structures. The great majority of subjects produced descriptions from a survey perspective. Introductory statements providing addressees with a spatial framework were produced more frequently by subjects who adopted highly systematic descriptive strategies. These subjects also tended to use absolute modes of landmark location, as well as canonical spatial terms referring to cardinal points. Descriptive sequences were considered to reflect the structural organization of the subjects’ mental representations of the spatial configurations they had to describe.


Descriptive Strategy Linear Strategy Landmark Location Spatial Schema Spatial Framework 
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.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Aurnague, M. and Vieu, L. (1993). A three-level approach to the semantics of space, In The semantics of prepositions: From mental processing to natural language processing (C. Zelinsky-Wibbelt, ed.), pp. 393–439. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  2. Bisseret, A. and Montarnal, C. (1993). Stratégies de linéarisation lors de descriptions textuelles de configurations spatiales, Rapport de recherche No. 1927, INRIA, GrenobleGoogle Scholar
  3. Brambring, M. (1982). Language and geographic orientation for the blind, In Speech, place, and action (R.J. Jarvella and W. Klein, eds.), pp. 203–218. Chichester: Wiley.Google Scholar
  4. Conklin, E.J. and McDonald, D.D. (1982). Salience: The key to the selection problem in natural language generation, In Proceedings of the 20th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics, pp. 129–135, Toronto, 16–18 June 1982.Google Scholar
  5. Denis, M. (1994). La description d’itinéraires: Des repères pour des actions. Notes et Documents du LIMSI, No. 94-14, Juillet 1994.Google Scholar
  6. Denis, M. and Denhière, G. (1990). Comprehension and recall of spatial descriptions. European Bulletin of Cognitive Psychology 10, 115–143.Google Scholar
  7. Denis, M., Robin, F., Zock, M. and Laroui, A. (1994). Identifying and simulating cognitive strategies for the description of spatial networks, In Comprehension of graphics (W. Schnotz and R.W. Kulhavy, eds.), pp. 77–94. Amsterdam: North-Holland.Google Scholar
  8. Ehrich, V. and Koster, C. (1983). Discourse organization and sentence form: The structure of room descriptions in Dutch. Discourse Processes 6, 169–195.Google Scholar
  9. Ehrlich, K. and Johnson-Laird, P.N. (1982). Spatial descriptions and referential continuity. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 21, 296–306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Foos, P.W. (1980). Constructing cognitive maps from sentences. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory 6, 25–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Garrod, S. and Anderson, A. (1987). Saying what you mean in dialogue: A study in conceptual and semantic co-ordination. Cognition 27, 181–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Klein, W. (1983). Deixis and spatial orientation in route directions, In Spatial orientation: Theory, research, and application (H. L. Pick Jr. and L.P. Acredolo, eds.), pp. 283–311. New York: Plenum.Google Scholar
  13. Levelt, W.J.M. (1982). Linearization in describing spatial networks, In Processes, beliefs, and questions (S. Peters and E. Saarinen, eds.), pp. 199–220. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Reidel.Google Scholar
  14. Levelt, W.J.M. (1989). Speaking: From intention to articulation, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  15. Linde, C. and Labov, W. (1975). Spatial networks as a site for the study of language and thought. Language 51, 924–939.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Maass, W. (1993). A cognitive model for the process of multimodal, incremental route descriptions, In Spatial information theory: A theoretical basis for GIS (A.U. Frank and I. Campari, eds.), pp. 1–13. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.Google Scholar
  17. Mani, K. and Johnson-Laird, P.N. (1982). The mental representation of spatial descriptions. Memory and Cognition 10, 181–187.Google Scholar
  18. Shanon, B. (1984). Room descriptions. Discourse Processes 7, 225–255.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Taylor, H.A. and Tversky, B. (1992). Descriptions and depictions of environments. Memory and Cognition 20, 483–496.Google Scholar
  20. Tversky, B. (1991). Spatial mental models, In The psychology of learning and motivation: Advances in research and theory (G.H. Bower, ed.), Vol. 27, pp. 109–145. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  21. Vandeloise, C. (1986). L’espace en francais: Semantique desprepositions spatiales, Paris: Editions du Seuil.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marie-Paule Daniel
    • 1
  • Luc Carité
    • 1
  • Michel Denis
    • 1
  1. 1.Groupe Cognition Humaine, LIMSI-CNRSUniversite de Paris-SudOrsayFrance

Personalised recommendations