Description of the SALTA project
SALTA investigates the conceptual domain of motion in space, with a focus on structural and functional asymmetries in the expression of path of motion. When describing a motion event, we can choose to encode various portions, from Source via Median to Goal, as in she walked from school (Source) through the forest (Median) to her friend’s house (Goal). In most cases, these three portions of path do not receive equal treatment, with overexpressed Goals, underexpressed Sources, and less explicitly expressed Medians. In this project, we focus on such asymmetries, including those linked to dynamic deixis (come vs go) and verticality (up vs down), through comparative studies of 30 typologically and genealogically varied languages. SALTA will (i) provide a comprehensive corpus of spatial asymmetries taking into account not only language structure but also language use, (ii) assess the role of general tendencies and language-specific patterns in spatial asymmetries, and (iii) build a typology of spatial asymmetries, thus gaining insights into the factors that determine and constrain spatial asymmetries in language. In order to achieve this goal, we will build a crosslinguistic database of spoken and written data, making the most of existing data and complementing it with data gathered with new elicitation tools that will be developed within SALTA. This will yield a balanced compilation of elicited and spontaneous data, made available to the research community, thereby contributing to open-access and reproducible science related to linguistic and cultural diversity.
The languages included in SALTA are genealogically and typologically varied, but they do not constitute a representative sample of language diversity. Rather, we aim for an extensive and fine- grained cross-linguistic investigation carried out by experts of these languages – an important prerequisite, if we wish to build the basis for a typology that will allow for further typologically informed language descriptions, and that can be further informed by data from a larger sample of languages. SALTA’s unique contribution is the fact that it investigates languages that have not benefited until now from intra- and inter-linguistic inquiries into spatial asymmetries, examining spatial asymmetries in both language structure and language use, without the usual focus on European languages.
By adopting a systematic methodological approach and by assessing factors that trigger spatial asymmetries, SALTA will provide key insights both for the field of language sciences, language typology in particular, and for the field of cognitive science. Furthermore, SALTA addresses the question of unity and variation in human language. Because language plays a fundamental role in human culture and cognition, languages have long been a main concern in debates on human diversity and human cognitive capacities. While there is a universal genetic basis for language acquisition, we know that languages vary tremendously across cultures in time and space. This raises important questions concerning the degree of variation, the existence of cognitive and/or functional constraints on variation and the possibility that some (culture-specific) conceptual domains are more likely to show variation than others. Although much effort has been made in the past twenty years to describe under-described and endangered languages, many languages have not yet been thoroughly described. While some languages have benefited from grammatical descriptions, there are many conceptual domains, such as space or more specifically the domain of spatial asymmetries, in which much unknown remains. By investigating languages belonging to different genetic groups and languages spoken in different geographical areas and within different cultures, SALTA will contribute to this research field, uncovering constrains on crosslinguistic variation in this conceptual domain.
In order to achieve this goal, we will build a crosslinguistic database of spoken and written data, bringing together a wealth of existing data that members of the project have collected during their fieldwork in the past 10 to 25 years, and complementary data that will be collected within the framework of the project, yielding a balanced compilation of elicited and spontaneous data, coming from visual elicitation, spontaneous speech and corpora. The corpus will be glossed and annotated by experts of individual languages and made available to the research community, thereby contributing to open-access and reproducible science related to linguistic and cultural diversity. Another important aspect of the project is to deal with a set of languages manifesting considerable genealogical and typological variation. Considering the diversity of languages in use in the world, we are still very far from having a representative sample of languages on which to build a typology of spatial asymmetries (which exists only for interrogatives and demonstratives, see Stolz et al. 2017). To the extent that the association between the morphosyntactic resources and the conceptual system of language is an important research goal, an extensive and fine-grained cross-linguistic investigation is a prerequisite for the development of such a typology. The present project represents a timely collaborative effort. Its unique contribution is the fact that it investigates languages that have not benefited until now from intra- and inter-linguistic inquiries into spatial asymmetries and that it examines spatial asymmetries in both language structure and language use, avoiding the usual focus on European languages.
The goal of this project is thus to understand spatial asymmetries in language, by investigating crosslinguistic variation in the types of lexical, grammatical and constructional resources used in individual languages to convey different components of Path of motion (i.e. a course followed by a moving entity (Figure) with respect to a reference entity (Ground), see Talmy 1985, 1991, Fortis & Vittrant 2016). We will examine language structure and evaluate the degree to which spatial features of Path – e.g. horizontality vs verticality, presence vs absence of boundary-crossing – and the Deictic perspective – e.g. itive (or andative, e.g. go-verbs) vs ventive (or venitive, e.g. come-verbs) – taken upon the events are asymmetrical. By examining language use, we aim to assess general tendencies and language-specific patterns in the selection and distribution of spatial information, investigate factors (linguistic, pragmatic, cognitive, ecological) underlying spatial asymmetries in language and build a typology of spatial asymmetries.