Reference frames in language and cognition: cross-population mismatches

Jürgen Bohnemeyer*, Danziger Eve, Jonathon Lum, Ali Alshehri, Elena Benedicto, Joe Blythe, Letizia Cerqueglini, Katharine Donelson, Alyson Eggleston, Alice Gaby, Yen-Ting Lin, Randi Moore, Tatiana Nikitina, Hywel Stoakes, Mayangna Yulbarangyang Balna

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Numerousstudieshavefoundevidenceofaspeechcommunity’sreferentialpracticesindiscoursebeing predictive of its members’ behavior in nonverbal tasks. In this article, we discuss a series of exceptions to this alignment pattern, drawing on data from eleven populations of Asia, Europe, the Middle East, North and Central America, and Oceania. These exceptions have not been discussed in conjunction with one another and the striking commonalities across the findings of these studies have gone unnoticed: (a) in discourses referring to small-scale space, either intrinsic frame use is dominant or both relative and geocentric frames are used frequently in addition to intrinsic frames; and (b) in recall/recognition memory, geocentric coding is more common than egocentric coding (in tasks that involve stationary stimulus configurations) in nine of the populations, while in the remaining two, there is evidence of extensive intrinsic coding even in nonverbal cognition. We discuss these findings in light of Haun’s innate geocentrism hypothesis (Haun, D. B. M., C. Rapold, J. Call, G. Janzen & S. C. Levinson. 2006. Cognitive cladistics and cultural override in hominid spatial cognition. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103(46). 17568–17573). Our data offers partial support for this hypothesis, but simultaneously calls into question whether any extrinsic reference frames are available innately.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)175–189
Number of pages15
JournalLinguistics Vanguard
Issue numbers1
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Copyright de Gruyter 2021. Article originally published in Linguistics Vanguard 2022; 8(s1): 175–189. The original article can be found at Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • language and cognition
  • linguistic relativity
  • semantic typology
  • sociotopography
  • spatial frames of reference


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