第一講：空間概念與文化 Conceptualizations of Space (Frames of Spatial Reference)
講者：Gunter Senft 教授
In this lecture, Prof. Senft invites us to reflect on how language influences our knowledge of the world, namely the way in which we categorize and conceptualize space. Experiments with speakers of different languages (mostly non-Indo-European) show that there is a correlation between linguistically constructed spatial concepts and non-linguistic experience of space.
The starting point of this research is a threefold typology of ‘frames of spatial reference’: 1) relative systems: those in which space is conceptualized with reference to the speaker; 2) absolute systems, in which space concepts rely on stable reference points, such as ‘north’ or ‘south’, and 3) inherent systems, in which space is considered with reference to an external object. Although most languages contain these three frames of spatial reference, research shows that in certain contexts speakers of a certain language tend to prefer one frame to the others. This preference has also an impact on the way in which they represent space and resolve non-linguistic spatial problems.
From this perspective, experiments provide evidence for a ‘weak’ version of Sapir and Whorf’s linguistic relativism: while language does not simply determine thought, it plays however an important role in human cognition.
INTRODUCTION OF THE LECTURE SERIES
In this series of five lectures, Prof. Senft will introduce some anthropological and linguistical perspectives on the study of the relation between language, culture and cognition. Prof. Senft’s main subject of research is the culture of the Trobriand Islanders and their language, Kivilila, one of the 40 Austronesian languages spoken in the Milne Bay province of Papua New Guinea.
By presenting the results of his long-term field research with the Trobrianders, Prof. Senft addresses crucial questions for linguistics, anthropology, philosophy and other fields of human sciences. For instance: Is there evidence for the hypothesis of “linguistic relativism”, i.e. the idea that language influences (or determines) thought? How does language influence perception (for instance, how do different linguistic categorizations of space influence the way we perceive space)? What is the role of language in the expression and control of human emotions? Do natural languages rely on universal categories? Or are linguistic categories rather culture-related?
Prof. Senft’s lectures will not only provide with rich insights into possible answers to all these questions, they will also address relevant methodological suggestions for the researcher in the Humanities. Above all, Prof. Senft’s research stresses the importance of being “on a common ground” with the researched communities: that is, to be able to understand the complexity of categories and linguistic strategies developed by native speakers. Only then will it be possible to reduce the impact of the linguistic and cultural presuppositions of the researcher.