Cardinal Direction

In 2003, a study by Stephen Levinson at the Max Plank Institute for Psycholinguistics found that speakers of English and other Indo-European languages use an egocentric orientation when describing the location of objects in their environment—objects are described in relation to the self, e.g. “left” or “right” of the subject—whereas speakers of most other languages employ an allocentric orientation that relies on absolute markers of location, e.g., the cardinal points of north and south.

These findings suggest that language plays a key role in spatial cognition, determining the self’s relationship to its environment. They also suggest that language may inhibit our ability to fully occupy our architectural surround. To echo the early Wittgenstein, the limits of our language are, indeed, the limits of our world. Perhaps the Architectural Body--defined by one’s bodily awareness—could be used as an empirical tool to expand upon our linguistic perimeters, cardinal or otherwise.

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