Linguistics Seminar | Bill Palmer, Newcastle – School of Humanities Linguistics Seminar | Bill Palmer, Newcastle – School of Humanities

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Linguistics Seminar | Bill Palmer, Newcastle

Directional terms in Papuan languages

Associate Professor Bill Palmer | Linguistics | Newcastle

This paper surveys spatial frames of reference in 26 Papuan languages chosen for their diversity, phylogenetically and in the environments where they are spoken. The survey finds that egocentric frames (e.g. on this side of the tree [i.e. on the speaker’s side]) are widespread, but not universally attested and often dispreferred when attested. It finds that all languages in the sample employ at least one subtype of geocentric frame (e.g. upriver from the village), in all cases preferred, but that the abstract cardinal directions are rare, in favour of geomorphic and environment-landmark frames, at odds with the traditional view that absolute is the basic geocentric type (Levinson 2003). The findings are consistent with the Topographic Correspondence Hypothesis (Palmer 2015) and provide counter-evidence to the assumption that the absence of left-right terms implies the absence of relative frame (Majid et al 2004; Pederson et al 1998). I conclude by foreshadowing future directions for spatial frame research in Papuan languages.

Bill Palmer is an Associate Professor of Linguistics at the University of Newcastle and is President of the Australian Linguistics Society. He is leader of the OzSpace project:


Western Tower Boardroom (Upstairs above the western gate of the Quadrangle)



Oct 20 2023


12:00 pm


Western Tower Room

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