Cooperrider, K., Slotta, J., and Núñez, R. (2016). Uphill and Downhill in a Flat World: The Conceptual Topography of the Yupno House. Cognitive Science.


Speakers of many languages around the world rely on body-­‐based contrasts (e.g. left/right) for spatial communication and cognition. Speakers of Yupno, a language of Papua New Guinea’s mountainous interior, rely instead on an environment-­‐based uphill/downhill contrast. Body-­‐based contrasts are as easy to use indoors as outdoors, but environment-­‐ based contrasts may not be. Do Yupno speakers still use uphill/downhill contrasts indoors and, if so, how? We report three studies on spatial communication within the Yupno house. Even in this Hlat world, uphill/downhill contrasts are pervasive. However, the terms are not used according to the slopes beyond the house’s walls, as reported in other groups. Instead, the house is treated as a microworld, with a "conceptual topography" that is strikingly reminiscent of the physical topography of the Yupno valley. The phenomenon illustrates some of the distinctive properties of environment-­‐based reference systems, as well as the universal power and plasticity of spatial contrasts.


Rafael Núñez


Embodied Cognition Lab