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LINGUIST List 18.1286

Fri Apr 27 2007

Diss: Semantics: Thiering: 'The Construction of Topological Space'

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        1.    Martin Thiering, The Construction of Topological Space

Message 1: The Construction of Topological Space
Date: 26-Apr-2007
From: Martin Thiering <martin.thieringtufts.edu>
Subject: The Construction of Topological Space

Institution: University of Alberta
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2007

Author: Martin Thiering

Dissertation Title: The Construction of Topological Space

Linguistic Field(s): Semantics

Dissertation Director:
David Beck
John Newman
Sally A. Rice
Claude Vandeloise

Dissertation Abstract:

Topological spatial relations are presumably speaker-neutral and objective.
This thesis takes issue with this assumption and argues that the
construction of topological spatial relations is rather subjective,
contextualized and perspectivized. In order to give evidence for this, this
dissertation surveys the conceptualization of topological space and the
lexicalization and distribution of the various meaning components that go
into spatial description. As I look at the effects of and interaction among
language, cognition, and perception in a variety of languages, I challenge
the idea that there are semantic universals.

The language at the center of my dissertation is the Cold Lake dialect of
Dene Suline (Chipewyan), a polysynthetic Athapaskan language spoken in the
Subarctic region of Alberta (Canada). I compare this language with an
agglutinative language, Upper Necaxa Totonac (Mexico), as well as various
Indo-European languages (English, Norwegian, German).

To gain natural language data, I have drawn on two elicitation tools
developed at the MPI in Nijmegen, the Topological Relation Markers and the
Caused Position test. The first test consists of 71 simple black-and-white
drawings of various objects, e.g., a cup on a table. Participants are asked
to react to the prompt "Where is object X?". The second test consists of 46
videos in which the location of an object is manipulated with or without
showing the agent. In addition to these tests, I have developed the Spatial
Categorization Elicitation tool that consists of 95 video clips showing
static or dynamic relationships between objects.

The results of my dissertation support a distributional and only partially
compositional view of semantics. Moreover, the various meaning components
that go into the encoding of spatial description in many languages are hard
to pinpoint to a single morpheme or word. Moreover, for speakers of some
languages, especially Dene, seemingly static and objective scenes require
morphosyntactic devices which signal perspective, level of specificity,
motion, causation, and other 'non-spatial' meaning components.

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