Spatial communication systems across languages reflect universal action constraints

Coventry, Kenny R. ORCID:, Gudde, Harmen B., Diessel, Holger, Collier, Jacqueline, Guijarro-Fuentes, Pedro, Vulchanova, Mila, Vulchanov, Valentin, Todisco, Emanuela, Reile, Maria, Breunesse, Merlijn, Plado, Helen, Bohnemeyer, Juergen, Bsili, Raed, Caldano, Michela, Dekova, Rositsa, Donelson, Katharine, Forker, Diana, Park, Yesol, Pathak, Lekhnath Sharma, Peeters, David, Pizzuto, Gabriella, Serhan, Baris, Apse, Linda, Hesse, Florian, Hoang, Linh, Hoang, Phuong, Igari, Yoko, Kapiley, Keerthana, Haupt-Khutsishvili, Tamar, Kolding, Sara, Priiki, Katri, Mačiukaitytė, Ieva, Mohite, Vaisnavi, Nahkola, Tiina, Tsoi, Sum Yi, Williams, Stefan, Yasuda, Shunei, Cangelosi, Angelo, Duñabeitia, Jon Andoni, Mishra, Ramesh Kumar, Rocca, Roberta, Šķilters, Jurģis, Wallentin, Mikkel, Žilinskaitė-Šinkūnienė, Eglė and Incel, Ozlem Durmaz (2023) Spatial communication systems across languages reflect universal action constraints. Nature Human Behaviour. ISSN 2397-3374

[thumbnail of s41562-023-01697-4]
PDF (s41562-023-01697-4) - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

Download (1MB) | Preview


The extent to which languages share properties reflecting the non-linguistic constraints of the speakers who speak them is key to the debate regarding the relationship between language and cognition. A critical case is spatial communication, where it has been argued that semantic universals should exist, if anywhere. Here, using an experimental paradigm able to separate variation within a language from variation between languages, we tested the use of spatial demonstratives—the most fundamental and frequent spatial terms across languages. In n = 874 speakers across 29 languages, we show that speakers of all tested languages use spatial demonstratives as a function of being able to reach or act on an object being referred to. In some languages, the position of the addressee is also relevant in selecting between demonstrative forms. Commonalities and differences across languages in spatial communication can be understood in terms of universal constraints on action shaping spatial language and cognition.

Item Type: Article
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Social Sciences > School of Psychology
University of East Anglia Research Groups/Centres > Theme - ClimateUEA
UEA Research Groups: Faculty of Social Sciences > Research Groups > Cognition, Action and Perception
Faculty of Social Sciences > Research Groups > Developmental Science
Faculty of Social Sciences > Research Groups > Social Cognition Research Group
Depositing User: LivePure Connector
Date Deposited: 03 Nov 2023 03:22
Last Modified: 03 Nov 2023 03:22
DOI: 10.1038/s41562-023-01697-4

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item