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Review of  The Categorization of Spatial Entities in Language and Cognition

Reviewer: Mohammad Rasekh Mahand
Book Title: The Categorization of Spatial Entities in Language and Cognition
Book Author: Michel Aurnague Maya Hickmann Laure Vieu
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Psycholinguistics
Issue Number: 19.95

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EDITORS: Aurnague, Michel; Hickman, Maya; Vieu, Laure
TITLE: The Categorization of Spatial Entities in Language and Cognition
SERIES: Human Cognitive Processing 20
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing Company
YEAR: 2007

Mohammad Rasekh Mahand, Linguistics Department, Bu-Ali Sina University, Hamedan,

This book tackles the questions raised by categorization of spatial entities
from various standpoints in different disciplines. It is divided into three main
sections: descriptive linguistics; psycholinguistic and developmental
psychology; and artificial intelligence, philosophy, and philosophy of language,

The editors in their introduction to the book give a review of past and present
studies on the categorization of spatial entities in different research fields.
They specify that the term spatial entity in this volume refers to entities as
having a spatial extension, that is to say as occupying a certain portion of
space at a given point in time and as potentially serving to locate other
individuals in space.

The first paper by Vandeloise introduces a taxonomy of basic natural entities
that is illustrated with data from French and English, but meant to have a more
general linguistic and cognitive validity. It is concerned with material
entities and places they occupy, and the opposition of count and mass entities.

Borillo, in her contribution, analyzes the spatial meaning of the French
preposition _contre_ ('against'), with particular attention to how entities and
force dynamics contribute to determine its semantic content. Her claim is that
this marker denotes different spatial relations among concrete physical entities.

The third paper of this volume by Stosic considers two other French
prepositions, _par_ ('by') and _á travers_ ('through'), that are closely related
to the expression of dynamic space. The paper aims at uncovering the semantic
constraints that are imposed by these markers on the nouns with which they are

In the following paper Grinevald gives a brief account of some non-Indo-European
languages that overtly categorize spatial entities by using classifiers and ,
more generally, nominal classification systems.

The last paper of the first section, the descriptive part, focuses on
orientation motion verbs of Korean and French. Choi-Jonin and Sarda analyze the
semantic content of these verbs and their interaction with functional suffixes
and prepositions, as well as their behavior in other specific constructions.

The descriptive work in the first part of this volume seems to indicate that
language does not handle spatial entities discriminately, but rather makes some
significant distinctions among them.

The papers in the second part of this volume show the results of
psycholinguistic studies examining the relation between linguistic and cognitive
categories. The first paper by Aurnague et al. focuses on the different factors
that may influence the intrinsic or deictic interpretations of spatial markers.

Bowerman, in the second paper of this part, argues that language is a special
tool for prompting comparison between exemplars in the extraction of abstracts.
Evidence from children's errors shows different types of overextensions across
languages. Bowerman attributes the differences between these overgeneralizations
to the breadth and composition of categories across languages.

Hickmann summarizes the results of several experiments focusing on how French
and English speakers express spatial information when locating entities,
describing object displacements, and narrating spontaneous motion.

Hespos and Spelke summarize a series of experiments testing the hypothesis that
infants possess a rich set of conceptual distinctions independently of language.
They conclude that systems of core knowledge give rise to a set of spatial and
mechanical concepts that is much larger than the one encoded by any one language.

In the last paper of the second part, Lècuyer et al. propose to test empirically
the predictions of three approaches to infants' early representations of
objects: Piagetian theory, perceptual theories and nativism.

To summarize, the papers in the second part of the volume make a substantial
contribution towards an account of the relation between cognitive and linguistic
spatial categories, but they also raise a number of questions that must be
further addressed.

The third part of this book is devoted to the characterization in logical
formalisms of the categories of spatial entities that play a role in language
and cognition. A basic issue regards the relationship between linguistics,
especially formal semantics, and formal ontology.

In the first paper of this part, Varzi examines the possibility of founding
ontological analysis on linguistic analysis. He focuses on two traps in trying
to establish what categories of entities there are on the basis of what is said
in language.

Muller's paper studies the nature of spatial entities focusing on their temporal
dimension and explicitly explores the adequacy of four-dimensionalist, or
spatio-temporal, ontological theory to account for a number of well-known
semantic phenomena.

The following paper by Vieu and Aurnague focuses on the role of categories in
the expression part-whole relations in French. It shows that the classical
hypothesis of the multiplicity of part-whole relations is in a large part
explained by the different ontological nature of the arguments.

The last paper by Asher focuses on types - in fact, ontological categories -
involved in the lexicon referring to the spatial domain. He gives a highly
developed logical theory of complex or dotted types.

The papers presented in the last part of this volume, lying at the intersection
between formal ontology and formal semantics, show that, even though the very
possibility of such an interdisciplinary research is still questioned, models of
how ontological theories of spatial entities integrate within a theory of
meaning to account for linguistic phenomena can indeed be achieved.

This volume provides a first entry into the categorization of spatial entity in
language and cognition. It evaluates previous work that directly or indirectly
deals with categorization of spatial entities in a general overview of this
field, and it raises some main question and tries to answer them in different
papers. On the whole, the volume opens a new research area, providing minimal
grounds for its future development. It also contributes to the development of
new approaches and methodologies in the study of the categorization of spatial

Mohammad Rasekh Mahand is Assistant Professor of Linguistics at Bu-Ali Sina
University, Hamadan, Iran. His research interests include syntax,
syntax-pragmatics interface and typology.