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Functional Features in Language and SpaceInsights from Perception, Categorization, and Development$
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Laura Carlson and Emile van der Zee

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780199264339

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199264339.001.0001

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Defining Functional Features for Spatial Language

Defining Functional Features for Spatial Language

(p.175) 12 Defining Functional Features for Spatial Language
Functional Features in Language and Space



Oxford University Press

Spatial terms such as above are typically used to specify the location of a desired object by indicating its spatial relationship to a reference object whose location is presumed known. Use of such terms requires that the space around the reference object be parsed into particular regions (e.g., above, below). Previous research has demonstrated that the construction of these regions is influenced not only by geometric properties of the reference object (such as its center-of-mass) but also by its functional parts. For example, in a placement task in which participants were asked to put one object above another object, objects were more likely to be placed away from the center of the object, toward its functional part. Moreover, this bias was stronger for objects that were functionally related (e.g., a coin vs. a ring placed above a piggy bank). This chapter defines the term ‘functionally related’ by focusing on the contributions of various characteristics (e.g., surface, use, or functional features) of the reference object. To do this, the chapter systematically analyzes the reference objects used by Carlson-Radvansky et al., classifying them in various ways, and asking whether such classifications mediated the bias toward the functional part. It concludes with a discussion of the contribution of the located object, and a reflection on how to define functional features for spatial language more generally.

Keywords:   spatial terms, functional bias, reference objects, geometric properties, classifications

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