On the expression of Space relations in Arabic dialects

Abstract : For long, debates on space were confined to the philosophical and scientific traditions, notwithstanding a general agreement on the fact that it was an experiential universal and a core property of the human cognition (a Kantian a priori). The idea that space is a universal is so deeply entrenched that its conceptualization was equally thought to be universal. The debate mainly focused on general questions like the priority of space on other domains (Anderson 1971) or its relation to time. It is only in the last decades of the 20th c., when the detailed description of many languages of small traditional communities scattered across all the continents (notably in South America and the Pacific) became available, that new questions emerged. The diversity of the encoding of space into languages started to raised doubts about the idea that space is uniformly conceptualized in the human mind. Since then, researches on space increased steadily in all domains, in linguistics as well as outside of it. In the last decades, research on spatial relations developed fast in many directions and from many different angles: semantics, typology, cognitive linguistics, psycholinguistics, formal linguistics… For our purpose, the works oriented towards a typology of the languages offer a useful background reference. Among them, Talmy (1972, 1985) was one of the first to propose a typology of the spatial relations. He introduced the analysis of a ‘Motion event’, into four basic components: figure, ground, path and motion (2007) and elaborated the distinction between ‘verb-framed’ and ‘satellite framed’ languages. Another important reference is the research in semantic typology carried on by the group of the Space project (MPI, Nijmegen) which used a common series of linguistic and non-linguistic tests or on a large and diverse sample of languages in order to document more precisely the complex question of the language/cognition relationship. The methodology and the main determiners of the variation are presented and discussed in Levinson 2003, while a companion book ( Levinson & Wilkins 2006) presents a systematic and in-depth exploration of the ‘grammar of space’ of a dozen of languages. Among the linguistic features, the most common factors of variation mentioned in the literature are: the loci of the encoding of spatial information, the distribution of the semantic components in the clause and their combination or ‘conflation’ (Talmy 1972, 2007), in lexical units (Talmy’s word/satellite framed verbs, serial verbs) and the semantic sets of properties privileged for a specific sub-domain, as position, manner, contact, containment. But many other factors like scale or physical properties or even more specific factors, as the cultural factors may play a role in the expression of the spatial relations. We will illustrate first the relativity of frames of reference in Arabic dialects belonging to different groups (ex. Egyptian vs. Yemeni Arabic) in comparaison with the formal registers of Arabic, and second, the variation within a given geographic area or country. We will show that many local factors, mainly geographic and cultural ones, interfere with the linguistic expression of the cardinal directions. Later on, we will consider the semantic structures of motion verbs and we will confront them with the typological classifications and the cognitive schemas proposed for the languages of the world.
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Samia Naïm. On the expression of Space relations in Arabic dialects. Iranian Conference on Functional Linguistics, Bu-Ali Sina University, Sep 2015, Hamedan, Iran. ⟨halshs-01477973⟩



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