Insights on Spatial Frames of Reference in the Kichwa Language of Northern Ecuador

Publication Date

April 2010


Anna Shusterman




English (United States)


The current study tested whether Kichwa speakers in northern Ecuador, preferentially use a body-based or environment-based frame of reference when communicating about spatial relations. A shielded communication task (adapted from the men-and-tree task) was used to elicit spatial language from native speakers. Kichwa speakers chose to employ an environment-based frame of reference (sunrise, sunset, up-hill, down-hill) for the majority of the spatial relations. Interestingly, they used the words left and right to describe the sides of a doll depicted in some photographs, showing that they have these terms in their vocabulary but limit their use to intrinsic, object-based frameworks. These results reveal that even though Kichwa speakers have access to both frames of reference, there is preference for environmental-based frame of reference. I discuss the possibility of absolute language preference in Kichwa resulting from an interaction of environment and innate structure.

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