Frames of spatial reference in five Australian languages

Bill Palmer*, Dorothea Hoffmann, Joe Blythe, Alice Gaby, Bill Pascoe, Maïa Ponsonnet

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Australian Indigenous languages are widely cited as depending overwhelmingly on abstract cardinal terms for spatial reference. However, considerable under-recognized diversity exists, with systems invoking aspects of local topography or egocentric projections.

The first step toward an empirically grounded understanding of the wider implications of Australian spatial reference systems is to establish what components of spatial systems actually occur in what combinations across the continent. This article examines the spatial systems of five Australian languages to test hypotheses about the role of the environment in shaping linguistic representations of space, revealing under-recognized aspects of Australian systems, including the use of egocentric (“relative”) reference frame but only on the sagittal axis; a nearside-farside system; and multiple systems invoking diverse salient environmental features.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages39
JournalSpatial Cognition and Computation
Early online date12 Oct 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Oct 2021


  • spatial language
  • Australian languages
  • frames of spatial reference
  • topographic correspondence hypothesis
  • sociotopography


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