Hunter Gatherer Research

Geomapped semantics of Bininj Kunwok orientation lexicon

Hunter Gatherer Research (2020), 4, (3), 391–409.

Abstract

Bininj Kunwok people (or Bininj) are a traditionally hunter-gatherer people whose territory is located around the Arnhem Land plateau in the Northern Territory of Australia. This paper describes the results of a systematic documentation of Bininj Kunwok spatial navigation in the bush through a semantic analysis of geographically contextualised orientation language. Through the application of a novel methodology involving semi-naturalistic data collected and analysed through the synchronisation of action cameras and GPS during walks, this study addresses the following questions: how can orientation be calibrated and verbalised during movement across varying settings; how do Bininj orientate during navigation, which factors affect orientation and what spatial language do they use to orientate or give direction? The results show that Bininj Kunwok people prefer allocentric orientation systems during navigation, specifically, the cardinal (‘north/south/east/west’) and the geomorphic (‘uphill/downhill, high Country/low Country’). Cardinal systems are predominantly used when speakers are further away from salient geographic features, like rivers. The reverse happens with geomorphic systems.

Two major orientation strategies derived from a semantic analysis of the language were also detected during navigation: a ‘proximate’, based on the immediate judgement of the eye, and an ‘ultimate’, based on traditions of land travel. The use of one strategy or the other may depend on assumptions of spatial common ground within a group of fellow navigators. Both findings reveal the salience of two main factors in navigation: the geographical and the social context in which the language is used.

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References

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Wittenburg, P, Brugman, H, Russel, A, Klassmann, A & Sloetjes, H 2006. ELAN: a professional framework for multimodality research. Proceedings of LREC 2006, Fifth International Conference on Language Resources and Evaluation. Nijmegen: Max Plank Institute for Psycholinguistics:1556–1559. Google Scholar

Abarbanell, L, Montana, R & Li, P 2011. Revisiting the plasticity of human spatial cognition. In Egenhofer, M, Giudice, N, Moratz, R & Worboys, M (eds) Lecture notes in computer science. Vol 6899. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg:245–263. Google Scholar

Cialone, C 2019. Placing spatial language and cognition in context through an investigation of Bininj Kunwok navigation talk. PhD thesis. Canberra: Australian National University. Google Scholar

Evans, N 2003. Bininj Gun-Wok: a pan-dialectal grammar of Mayali, Kunwinjku and Kune. Vol. 1 & 2. Canberra: Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University. Google Scholar

Gallistel, CR 1990. Learning, development, and conceptual change. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Google Scholar

Garde, M 2014. Doing things with toponyms: the pragmatics of placenames in Western Arnhem Land. In Clark, ID, Hercus, L & Kostanski, L (eds) Indigenous and minority placenames: Australian and international perspectives. Canberra: ANU Press:97–122. Google Scholar

Haugen, E 1957. The semantics of Icelandic orientation. Word 13(3):447–459. Google Scholar

Haun, DBM, Rapold, CJ, Janzen, G & Levinson, SC 2011. Plasticity of human spatial cognition: spatial language and cognition covary across cultures. Cognition 119(1):70–80. Google Scholar

Hernandez, D 1994. Qualitative representation of spatial knowledge. Vol 804. Berlin: Springer Science & Business Media. Google Scholar

Hoffmann, D 2017. Systems of absolute frames of reference in Australia: a preliminary survey. Paper presented at the workshop of sociotopography: the interplay of language, culture and the environment. Australian Language Typology conference, Canberra. Google Scholar

Krippendorff, K 2012. Content analysis: an introduction to its methodology. Beverly Hills: Sage. Google Scholar

Levinson, SC 2003. Space in language and cognition. Vol 5. New York, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Google Scholar

Levinson, SC & Wilkins, DP 2006. Grammars of space. Vol 6. New York, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Google Scholar

Meakins, F, Jones, C & Algy, C 2015. Bilingualism, language shift and the corresponding expansion of spatial cognitive systems. Language Sciences 54:1–13. Google Scholar

Nash, D 1998. Ethnocartography: understanding central Australian geographic literacy. Unpublished manuscript. Google Scholar

O’Meara, C & Pérez Báez, G 2011. Spatial frames of reference in Mesoamerican languages. Language Sciences 33(6):837–852. Google Scholar

Palmer, B 2015. Topography in language: absolute frame of reference and the topographic correspondence hypothesis. In De Busser, R & LaPolla, RJ (eds) Language structure and environment: social, cultural, and natural factors. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company:177–226. Google Scholar

Palmer, B, Lum, J, Schlossberg, J & Gaby, A 2017. How does the environment shape spatial language? Evidence for sociotopography. Linguistic Typology 21(3):457–491. Google Scholar

Polian, G & Bohnemeyer, J 2011. Uniformity and variation in Tseltal reference frame use. Language Sciences 33(6):868–891. Google Scholar

Talmy, L 2000. Toward a cognitive semantics. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Google Scholar

Talmy, L 2005. The fundamental system of spatial schemas in language. In Hamp, B (ed) From perception to meaning: image schemas in cognitive linguistics. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter:199–234. Google Scholar

Tenbrink, T 2015. Cognitive discourse analysis: accessing cognitive representations and processes through language data. Language and Cognition 7(1):98–137. Google Scholar

Widlok, T 1997. Orientation in the wild: the shared cognition of Hai||om bushpeople. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 3(2):317–332. Google Scholar

Widlok, T 2008. Landscape unbounded: space, place, and orientation in ≠Akhoe Hai//om and beyond. Language Sciences 30(2):362–380. Google Scholar

Wittenburg, P, Brugman, H, Russel, A, Klassmann, A & Sloetjes, H 2006. ELAN: a professional framework for multimodality research. Proceedings of LREC 2006, Fifth International Conference on Language Resources and Evaluation. Nijmegen: Max Plank Institute for Psycholinguistics:1556–1559. Google Scholar

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Author details

Cialone, Claudia

Cialone, Claudia