Figure and Ground in spatial language

Author(s)
Soonja Choi, Florian Goller, Upyong Hong, Ulrich Ansorge, Hongoak Yun
Abstract

We investigate how German and Korean speakers describe everyday spatial/motion events, such as putting a cup on the table. In these motion events, the moving object (e.g., cup) and the non-moving reference object (e.g., table) take on the roles of Figure and Ground, respectively. Figure(F) and Ground(G) thus have distinct perceptual properties and assume conceptually asymmetric roles (entity moving along a trajectory vs. stationary reference frame). We examine the degrees to which speakers distinguish between F and G semantically (spatial/Path terms, e.g., on, in) and syntactically (grammatical roles, e.g., subject, object). Participants described events involving two objects that switched their F-G roles (put cup(F) on board(G) and put board(F) under cup(G)). German speakers use distinct Path terms (e.g., auf, in) for differential F-G relations, thus encoding the F-G asymmetry. In contrast, Korean speakers use the same terms (e.g., kkita 'fit.tightly') and the same syntactic constructions regardless of switches in F-G roles. These cross-linguistic differences are evident for Non-typical events (Put board(F) under cup(G)), showing that the encoding of the asymmetry interacts with speakers' everyday experiences of motion events. We argue that the differences reflect the interactions between the Path lexicon and spatial syntax, and language-specific viewpoints of the F-G relation.

Organisation(s)
Research Platform Data Science @ Uni Vienna, Department of Linguistics, Department of Basic Psychological Research and Research Methods, Department of Philosophy
External organisation(s)
San Diego State University, Konkuk University, Jeju National University
Journal
Language and Cognition
Volume
10
Pages
665-700
No. of pages
36
ISSN
1866-9808
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1017/langcog.2019.3
Publication date
12-2018
Peer reviewed
Yes
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
Cognitive psychology
Keywords
Portal url
https://ucris.univie.ac.at/portal/en/publications/figure-and-ground-in-spatial-language(3441ab57-8660-4afb-aa54-bc13f783cd68).html