Laura A Carlson and Ryan Kenny

Consider the following scenario. You arrive at work early one morning and head for the office coffeepot. A colleague of yours is already there pouring herself a cup of coffee. Upon seeing you, she says "Place your cup below the pot." You interpret her statement as an indication that she will pour you a cup of coffee, and you put your cup in the appropriate location. Of interest in the current chapter are the processes and representations that underlie your apprehension of her utterance and your subsequent action. At a minimum, apprehension involves matching the relevant objects in the environment with the referents in the utterance (i.e., linking the cup in your hand with "your cup," the coffee pot in her hand with "the pot"). For utterances of this type, these objects have different roles. One object is referred to as the located object, and it is the object whose location is being specified. It is also considered the focal object that is profiled in the utterance (Langacker, 1987; see also Zwaan & Madden, Chapter 10, this volume). The other object is referred to as the reference object. Due to its size, shape or salience within the discourse, the reference object is assumed to offer a viable reference point from which to define the location of the located object (Landau & Jackendoff, 1993; Langacker, 1993; Talmy, 1983). However, with respect to the goal of the utterance, this object is backgrounded relative to the located object (Langacker, 1987).

Apprehension also involves mapping the spatial term "below" to an appropriate region of space surrounding the coffeepot (Langacker, 1993, 2002; Logan & Sadler, 1996; Miller & Johnson-Laird, 1976). This region has been referred to as a preposition's search domain (Langacker, 1993; Miller & Johnson-Laird, 1976). However, defining the search domain is not straightforward, as it can be constrained by numerous influences including perceptual, geometric, social and functional factors (Miller & Johnson-Laird 1976). The problem is illustrated in Figure 3.1, in which several possible placements of the cup are illustrated. The degree to which these placements represent the "below" spatial relation varies in interesting ways. First

figure 3.1. Various placements of the coffee cup in response to the utterance "Place the cup below the pot." Panel a illustrates a placement directly below the pot, in the so-called good region for "below" (Logan and Sadler, 1996). Panel b illustrates a placement off to the side, in the so-called acceptable region for "below" (Logan and Sadler, 1996). Based on a geometric definition of "below," a is a more acceptable placement than b. Panels c and d illustrate the same type of placement as in b, but the change in the orientation of the pot makes these more acceptable. Based on a functional definition of "below," c and d are more acceptable than b and possibly a.

compare panel ia that represents a placement in which the cup is directly below the center of the pot and panel lb that represents a placement in which the cup is below but off to the side. Typically, ratings of the acceptability of the spatial term "below" as a description of these types of placements favor the placement in ia over lb (Carlson-Radvansky & Logan, 1997; Hayward & Tarr, 1995; Logan & Sadler, 1996). One interpretation of this effect is that the "best" placement of the located object is defined on the basis of the geometric properties of the reference object, most usually its center of mass for projective relations such as "below" or "above" (Gapp, 1995; Regier, 1996; Schirra, 1993).

However, now consider the placements in panels ic and id. The spatial term "below" is more acceptable as a description of the spatial relation between the objects for these placements relative to the placement in 1b, despite being in the same geometric spatial relation. One interpretation of this effect is that the change in orientation of the reference object highlights the potential functional interaction between the objects. This functional interaction then biases the interpretation of the spatial term. Indeed, this functional interaction may be so strongly inferred, that some may prefer panel 1b to panel 1a. More generally, this example is consistent with a growing body of work demonstrating both geometric and functional influences on the interpretation of spatial language (Carlson-Radvansky, Covey & Lattanzi, 1999; Carlson-Radvansky & Radvansky, 1996; Carlson-Radvansky & Tang, 2000; Coventry, 1998, 1999; Coventry, Carmichael, & Garrod, 1994; Coventry, Prat-Sala, & Richards, 2001; Garrod, Ferrier, & Campbell, 1999; Vandeloise, 1988; 1991; for an excellent review, see Coventry & Garrod, 2004).

Nevertheless, the manner in which geometric and functional factors jointly constrain the interpretation of spatial language, and how their relative strengths are determined and combined is unknown. We focus on this point in this chapter. Specifically, we begin by overviewing the theoretri-cal importance of geometric and functional factors, and illustrate the joint combination of these factors within a given data set (Carlson-Radvansky, Covey, & Lattanzi, 1999). Next, we offer an explanation of these effects that focuses on the ideas of activation and construal within the immersed ex-periencer framework of Zwaan (2004; see also Coventry & Garrod, 2004). This allows us in turn to make particular predictions about the factors that should constrain these effects, as reflected in the relative strength of the geometric and functional influences. We offer preliminary evidence in support of these predictions. Finally, we conclude by underscoring the importance of examining the interpretation of a spatial term not as an abstract definition but rather as a reflection of a simulated event that combines the current utterance with the goals, situational context, and knowledge of the interlocuters (Clark, 1997; Coventry & Garrod, 2004; Zwaan, 2004; Zwaan & Madden, Chapter 10, this volume).

geometric and functional influences on interpreting spatial terms

0 0

Post a comment