Beyond Language Shift: Spatial Cognition among the Ixcatecs in Mexico

in Journal of Cognition and Culture
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Recently there has been a renewed interest surrounding the role that language plays in the shaping of cognition based on the study of spatial relations with a particular attention to Mesoamerican languages. Since Brown and Levinson (1993), several studies have shown that speakers of Mesoamerican languages largely prefer non-egocentric strategies in the solution of nonverbal tasks and that this preference strongly aligns to the spatial expressions found in these languages. Moreover, it has been argued that contact with Spanish increases the use of egocentric responses. This paper engages in this discussion with new evidence from a Mexican community which has shifted from a Mesoamerican language, Ixcatec, to Spanish during the twentieth century. It presents three studies consisting of nonverbal, memorization tasks, conducted with a total of 52 monolingual Spanish speakers from the community of Santa María Ixcatlán. According to the neo-Whorfian approach, the residents of Santa María Ixcatlán should strongly favour the Spanish-related egocentric responses. Against this assumption, however, our study shows that the geocentric responses are predominant among the Ixcatecs. This result clearly indicates that frames of reference are culturally-defined and do not disappear in case of language shift but persist in cognitive representations among the members of a stable, rural community.

Beyond Language Shift: Spatial Cognition among the Ixcatecs in Mexico

in Journal of Cognition and Culture

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References

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Figures

  • View in gallery
    Santa María Ixcatlán, State of Oaxaca, Mexico.
  • View in gallery
    (left) Participant facing north: the soap bar is closest to the back of the chair. (right) Participant facing south: the soap bar is closest to the back of the chair (intrinsic frame of reference).
  • View in gallery
    (left) Participant facing north: the soap bar is at the northernmost side of the chair. (right) Participant facing south: the soap bar is at the northernmost side of the chair (geocentric frame of reference).
  • View in gallery
    (left) Participant facing north: the soap bar is furthest from the speaker. (right) Participant facing south: the soap bar is furthest from the speaker (egocentric frame of reference).
  • View in gallery
    Distribution of preferred frames of reference (egocentric, geocentric and intrinsic).
  • View in gallery
    Distribution of frames of reference with respect to the distinction of indoors/outdoors.
  • View in gallery
    (left) Participant facing north: the soap bar is furthest from the participant. (right) Participant facing south: the soap bar is furthest from the participant (egocentric frame of reference).
  • View in gallery
    (left) Participant facing north: the soap bar is northernmost. (right) Participant facing south: the soap bar is northernmost (geocentric frame of reference).
  • View in gallery
    Distribution of frames of reference with respect to Education.
  • View in gallery
    Distribution of frames of reference with respect to the distinction of indoors/outdoors.
  • View in gallery
    (left) Distribution of frames of reference in the two tasks. (right) Distribution of frames of reference in the two tasks with respect to Location (indoors vs. outdoors).
  • View in gallery
    (top) Distribution of frames of reference in the two tasks with respect to Sex. (bottom) Distribution of frames of reference in the two tasks with respect to Education.
  • View in gallery
    (top) Participant facing north: the jaguar is easternmost and is facing east. (bottom) Participant facing south: the jaguar is easternmost and is facing east (geocentric frame of reference).
  • View in gallery
    (top) Participant facing north: the jaguar is at the participant’s right hand, facing west. (bottom) Participant facing south: the jaguar is at the participant’s right hand, facing west (egocentric frame of reference with geocentric orientation).
  • View in gallery
    Distribution of frames of reference in the “Animals in a row” task.

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