Spatial Language and Cognition In Bilingual Minds: Taiwan as a Test Case
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This dissertation investigates the effect of linguistic and nonlinguistic variables on the use of spatial representations in bilingual speakers of Taiwanese Southern Min (TSM) and Mandarin Chinese (MC) as compared to monolinguals. Linguists and psychologists are particularly interested in the factors that influence the selection among such strategies. Language, cultural factors such as education and literacy, and environmental variables such as topography and population geography have all been hypothesized to play a potential role in this process. Despite being members of the Sinitic language family, TSM and MC exhibit different features in spatial representations: TSM shows a unique polysemy pattern in its spatial relators, conflating ‘front’ with ‘right’ and ‘back’ with ‘left’; and TSM speakers make frequent use of geocentric representations in small-scale space, whereas MC speakers strongly prefer egocentric and intrinsic frames. The migration and contact history of Taiwan offer an opportunity to explore effects of culture and environment on language, language use, and nonverbal cognition. The objectives of this research project are to document and describe the structure and use of spatial representations in bilinguals as compared to monolinguals and to explore quantitatively how language, culture and environment affect the use of spatial representations in a bi- and multi-lingual society. The dissertation reports on three studies: two referential communication studies probing the use of spatial relators and reference frames in discourse and a recall memory experiment targeting the use of reference frames in nonverbal cognition. These studies were carried out with four populations: monolinguals speakers of MC and TSM, sequential bilinguals who began the acquisition of TSM well before that of MC, and simultaneous bilinguals who were exposed to both languages from birth. It was found that the bilinguals displayed a significant difference as compared to the monolingual speakers by showing mixed patterns in both discourse and nonverbal cognition. Mixed effects regression models indicated significant effects of first and second language use, literacy, and education in predicting the use of reference frames in discourse and of language use and population density on recall memory. An effect from language use on recall memory, providing support for the Linguistic Transmission Hypothesis (LTH). This hypothesis suggests that language use can serve as a conduit for the transmission of cognitive practices (Bohnemeyer et al 2015). A topography effect across populations provides support for the Topographic Correspondence Hypothesis (Palmer, 2015), stating that absolute spatial systems are (partially) motivated by the external physical environment. Effects of education and literacy confirm the Socio-Topographic Model (Palmer et al., 2016) by providing the evidence for cultural mediation between language and environment. The current studies make valuable contributions to the research on bilingualism and spatial cognition by documenting variation of spatial reference in bilingual populations in a multilingual setting. These studies make important contributions to the investigation of the role of bilingualism in spatial cognition. The results provide a comprehensive vista of the differences and commonalities in verbal and nonverbal representations of space across monolingual and bilingual speakers of Mandarin and Taiwanese Southern Min.