Spatial Language and Spatial Cognition: The Case of Motion Events – Barbara Landau (Johns Hopkins University)
For some years, our lab has been working on questions about the nature of semantic representations of space, in particular, representations of objects, motions, locations, and paths involved in motion events. One central question we address is the nature of the correspondence between these semantic representations of space and their possible non-linguistic counterparts. To what extent are there direct mappings between our non-linguistic representation of motion events, and the language we use to express these? We have recently approached this question by studying the language of motion events (as well as other spatial language) in people with severely impaired spatial cognition. Individuals with Williams syndrome (a rare genetic defect) have an unusual cognitive profile, in which spatial cognition is severely impaired, but language (i.e. morphology, syntax) is spared. The crucial question is whether these individuals will show impaired spatial language, commensurate with their spatial impairment, or spared spatial language, commensurate with the rest of their linguistic system. Evidence suggests remarkable sparing in the language of motion events for this group, with rich structure in the nature of expressions for objects, motions, and paths. These findings suggest that the linguistic encoding of motion events may be insulated from the effects of more general spatial breakdown, and raises questions about the nature of the mapping between spatial language and spatial cognition.