Cognitive Science 40 (7):n/a-n/a (2016)

Speakers of many languages around the world rely on body-based contrasts for spatial communication and cognition. Speakers of Yupno, a language of Papua New Guinea's mountainous interior, rely instead on an environment-based uphill/downhill contrast. Body-based contrasts are as easy to use indoors as outdoors, but environment-based contrasts may not be. Do Yupno speakers still use uphill/downhill contrasts indoors and, if so, how? We report three studies on spatial communication within the Yupno house. Even in this flat world, uphill/downhill contrasts are pervasive. However, the terms are not used according to the slopes beyond the house's walls, as reported in other groups. Instead, the house is treated as a microworld, with a “conceptual topography” that is strikingly reminiscent of the physical topography of the Yupno valley. The phenomenon illustrates some of the distinctive properties of environment-based reference systems, as well as the universal power and plasticity of spatial contrasts.
Keywords Built environment  Papua New Guinea  Conceptual mappings  Space  Language  Uphill–downhill systems
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DOI 10.1111/cogs.12357
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