Accueil > Conférences et journées d’étude > 2011 : Atelier Aflico From Localism to Embodiment – What typology and diachrony can tell us about space and language

Atelier Aflico - From Localism to Embodiment – What typology and diachrony can tell us about space and language

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Le Lattice subventionne un atelier dans le cadre de l’Aflico.

Cet atelier, intitulé “From Localism to Embodiment – What typology and diachrony can tell us about space and language”, est organisé par Benjamin Fagard et Jean-Michel Fortis.

Voici une présentation rapide de cet atelier :

The present workshop proposes to investigate the importance of space in language, with diachronic and typological data as well as broad historical and theoretical perspectives.
Space seems to be fundamental to our perception of the world that surrounds us – as Lestrade et al. put it, “Spatial meaning is generally considered to be basic to our thinking in general” (2010 : 973). It has often been said that it also has an important role in the shaping of language and its evolution. The localist theory, which flourished in 19th century philology with works such as Wüllner’s (1827) and Michelsen’s (1843) studies on case marking, is also present in 20th century linguistics : some linguists have explicitly assumed a localist stance, like Hjelmslev (1935-7), Anderson (1971), Lyons (1977), Groussier (1997), O’Keefe (1996) ; others, without explicitly referring to localism, investigated the relations between space and language in a similar perspective (Svorou 1994, Haspelmath 1997, Guillaume 1973 : 234). The ‘localist’ theory has also been addressed by various studies which adopt a critical stance vis-à-vis this theory, explicitly or not (e.g. Pottier 2001 : 18, Tenbrink 2007, Vandeloise 1986, Victorri 2010).
Looking back at the literature, two important points are especially worth noting : first, localism is probably a universal tendency, rather than a linguistic universal in Greenberg’s sense ; second, it can be defended only if one takes into consideration not ‘geometric’ but ‘experienced’ space. Indeed, Vandeloise (1986) for instance showed the importance of functional features even for ‘spatial’ adpositions. This functional component of meaning is also found in embodied conceptions of language, which might be more realistic than geometric localism. Embodiment, which could be traced as far back as James (1897), has been popularized in psychology and later in other scientific domains (philosophy, cognitive sciences, linguistics, robotics, neuroscience…) mainly in the last twenty years (Thelen et al. 2001). It has been consequently received support from very different fields (Iverson & Thelen 2005), including linguistics.

As with ‘cognitive schemas’ in cognitive linguistics (Hampe 2005), there is a problem of definition and operability of this theory for linguistics ; although there have been some efforts to provide definitions (Zlatev 2007), it seems at this point quite impossible to state clearly. We would like to propose ways to measure the impact of experience (including experiences of space) on language and on language evolution, through the study of grammaticalization and subjectification. We propose to address this issue from a theoretical perspective, but with an empirical goal : to formulate a ‘working theory’ of the semantic constraints involved in language evolution, and grammaticalization in particular. In order to combine these two elements, most contributions to this workshop will include ‘hard’ data, i.e. large descriptive or corpus studies of ‘real-life’ linguistic phenomena, and focus on the evolution of spatial markers – their origin and development, as well as the importance of spatial markers for grammar.

The first two presentations are entitled :

1. The localist strand in the history of linguistics (Jean-Michel Fortis)


2. Mimetic Schemas and Acts of Bodily Communication (Jordan Zlatev, invited speaker).

They will bear on the history of localism, and focus, one on its tradition, the other on new insights into localism theory. For the first one, the period under consideration will span the 19th and 20th centuries, from the heyday of localist theories of case (the 19th century) up to the revival of localism in contemporary linguistics. Special attention will be given to the origin and role of localist ideas in early cognitive linguistics. This presentation will be followed by a reflexion on mimetic schemas, describing what we will consider here to be in continuity with localism, namely embodiment.

The following presentations will focus on specific phenomena and their evolution. They will investigate a wide span of questions, from demonstratives and deictics to preverbs, particles and directionals. Besides, the languages chosen as a basis for these studies are also varied, including languages from Europe, Asia, Africa and South America, and even Sign Language, which can be used “to broaden our understanding of the range of structures used in natural language” for the expression of spatial relations, given its specific modality and the structures it offers ‘speakers’ (Özyürek et al., 2010 : 1111). The common thread is a reflection on the relations between space and language, and on the importance of localism. The list of presentations in this section of the workshop is as follows :

3. Spatial preverbs in Hungarian. (Anna Sőrés)

4. How Ese Ejja posture verbs left lying around stand for a wide range of grammatical devices. (Marine Vuillermet)

5. Demonstratives and localism. (Anne Carlier & Walter de Mulder)

6. From space to syntax : the grammaticalization of deictic suffixes in Wolof (Stéphane Robert)

7. On the non-spatial extensions of slavic spatial deictics. A case study from Polish and Serbian. (Benjamin Fagard, Dorota Sikora & Dejan Stosic)

8. Spatial expressions for reflexivity and reciprocity in Oceanic languages. (Claire Moÿse-Faurie)

9. Modality, aspectuality and temporality : grammatical evolution of the spatio-temporal morpheme /khɛ1/ /kha1/. (Alice Vuittrant)

10. The signer in language space. (Annie Risler)

This workshop will thus be a meeting-point for researchers interested in interactions between language and space who work on different issues in different languages. It should provide a wealth of data on these issues, and bring linguists to confront their methods and theories.


Anderson, J. 1971. The Grammar of Case : Towards a Localistic Theory. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press.

Groussier, M.-L. 1997. Prépositions et primarité du spatial : de l’expression de relations dans l’espace à l’expression de relations non spatiales, Faits de Langues n° 9, pp. 221-234.

Guillaume, G. 1973. Leçons de Gustave Guillaume, 1948-49, Série C, Paris : Klincksieck-Laval.

Haspelmath, M. 1997. From space to time. Temporal adverbials in the world’s languages. München / Newcastle : Lincom Europa.

Hjelmslev, L. 1935/37. Catégorie des cas (2 volumes). Acta Jutlandica VII, IX.

Iverson, J. M. & E. Thelen. 1999. Hand, mouth and brain : The dynamic emergence of speech and gesture. Journal of Consciousness Studies 6(11-12) : 19-40.

James, W. 1897/1984. The essential writings, ed. B. Wilshire. State University of New York Press.

Lestrade, S., H. De Hoop & K. De Schepper, 2010. Introduction – Spatial Case. Linguistics 48/5, 973-981.

Michelsen, C. 1843. Kasuslehre der Lateinischen Sprache vom kausal-lokalen Standpunkte aus. Berlin, Trautwein.

O’Keefe, J. 1996. The spatial prepositions in English, Vector grammar and the cognitive map theory. In Language and Space, Bloom, Peterson, Nadel & Garrett (eds), 277-316.

Özyürek, A., I. Zwitserlood & P. Perniss, 2010. Locative expressions in signed languages : a view from Turkish Sign Language. Linguistics 48/5, 1111-1145.

Pottier, B. 2001. Représentations mentales et catégorisations linguistiques. Louvain / Paris : Peeters.

Pulvermuller, F. 2010. Brain embodiment of syntax and grammar : discrete combinatorial mechanisms spelt out in neuronal circuits. Brain Lang 112(3) : 167-79.

Svorou, S. 1994. The grammar of space. Amsterdam / Philadelphie : John Benjamins.

Tenbrink, T. 2007. Space, time, and the use of language : an investigation of relationships. Berlin : Mouton de Gruyer.

Thelen, E., G. Schoner, et al. 2001. The dynamics of embodiment : a field theory of infant perseverative reaching. Behav Brain Sci 24(1) : 1-34 ; discussion 34-86.

Vandeloise, C. 1986. L’espace en français. Paris : Seuil.

Victorri, B. 2010. Le localisme à l’épreuve du verbe aller. Corela. Numéros spéciaux, Espace, Préposition, Cognition – Hommage à Claude Vandeloise.

Wüllner, F. 1827. Die Bedeutung des sprachlichen Casus und Modi.

Zlatev, J. 2007. Language, embodiment and mimesis. In Body, Language and Mind, Ziemke, Zlatev & Frank (eds). Berlin & NY : Mouton de Gruyter. 297-338.