Spatial Frames of Reference in Traditional Negev Arabic: Language-to-Cognition Correlation

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Linguistic and cognitive tasks on spatial Frames of Reference (FoRs) in Traditional Negev Arabic (TNA) show that TNA is a referentially promiscuous language, using Intrinsic, Relative and Absolute FoRs. FoRs are selected in context according to culture-specific features of the ground (G). TNA speakers exclusively use the Absolute FoR in cognitive tasks, similarly to Mesoamerican languages (Bohnemeyer et al. in Proceedings of the 36th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, Austin, 2014). Absolute FoR in TNA is anchored on the four cardinal directions. Nevertheless, in TNA and in other varieties of Nomadic Arabic, geocentric sub-types of the Absolute FoR are also observable. Indeed, as in other Absolute-framing systems worldwide, different anchoring strategies (geocentric and astronomic) tend to coexist. I define their coexistence “Absolute Referential Modularity” (ARM). ARM appears in TNA in cognitive referential tasks and in some lexical items, not in linguistic tasks (as elaborated by Levinson et al. in Space stimuli kit 1.2: November 1992. Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, pp 7–14, 1992). Cardinal directions across Nomadic Arabic varieties show great cultural salience. They are associated with concrete geographical elements and encode topological relations: east–west axis encodes the mountain–sea opposition, beside many symbolic meanings, and encodes the oppositions Up/Down and Inside (familiar)/Outside (foreign). The detection of cognitive and linguistic Absolute referential practices—characterized by Modularity—and the cultural salience of cardinal directions within the whole Nomadic Arabic linguistic group, support the bias for Absolute cognition in promiscuous systems and its antecedence with respect to later linguistic referential strategies (Bohnemeyer et al. 2014). TNA linguistic promiscuity represents an innovation with respect to the cognitive concepts and demonstrates that language first generates semantic structures, which may later influence cognitive representations. Nevertheless, in TNA the independence of linguistic and cognitive spatial representations is hard to deny.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-188
Number of pages4
JournalCognitive Processing
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Absolute modularity
  • Cardinal directions
  • Language-to-cognition correlation
  • Spatial Frames of Reference
  • Traditional Negev Arabic

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence


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