N° 447
Spatial Concepts in Non-Literate Societies: Language and Practice in Eipo and Dene Chipewyan (TOPOI – Towards a Historical Epistemology of Space)
Download pdf

This paper focuses on the linguistic representation of spatial concepts in two unrelated languages with a non-written tradition. It explores the degree to which environmental experience and spatial orientation is reflected in language, i.e., it is in line with anthropological linguistic approaches placing language in its social and cultural context, and its cultural practices. Spatial knowledge is not only encoded in concepts or categories, but is embodied in the lived histories of human beings, and their cultural and linguistic practices. The cultures under survey present an alpine region (Eipo, Papua Province, Indonesia) and vast prairies (Dene Chipewyan, Alberta, Canada). The mental and perceptual course maintaining in these cultures rely on cognitive maps, i.e., the orientation techniques are processes of inference within the structure of cognitive maps. We adopt cognitive maps as known from navigation techniques of dead reckoning of orientation. This kind of navigation is based on dynamic cognitive maps and mental triangulation so that the navigator has a spatial conception of their position at any time. It is argued here that this is of special importance also for orienting oneself in the alpine regions of Eipo or the vast prairies extensions of the Dene. Our question concerns the relationship between non-linguistic information and spatial language. The point of departure is that non-linguistic information has its impact upon spatial language and categorization, i.e., reference of space and its relation to semiotic systems. We present language data indicating the influence and constructive process of environmental landmarks and cultural heritage upon shaping of spatial categorization in the two languages.