From Language to Space

From this research perspective, language is seen as a source of information for the spatial domain. The way people perceive and describe the surrounding geographic world is one of important research issues within the Geographic Information Science. The most direct way to study people’s perception and conceptualisation of space is through written or spoken language. The following list of projects is representative of the activities of the GISLab in this research direction:



Where and What is Near?

Motivation and Goal: The idea that corpora of written language contain interesting insights on the way people perceive the world, although being established, is not representatively covered in Geography yet! In this project we use Ngrams (n-word combinations in combination with frequencies/probabilities), and associated probabilities, as an entry point to the Internet’s information. In particular, we use Ngrams containing the spatial relation - "near" - in combination with place names. This allows us to georeference a large number of "near relations", distributed over several continents and different geographic settings. Thus, the collection of near instantiations from Ngrams offers a possibility for quantitative interpretations of where and what is near.

Assymentry of near shown with probabilities of sentences cityA near cityB and vice versa, given that A has larger population than B.

Assymentry of near shown with probabilities of sentences cityA near cityB and vice versa, given that A has larger population than B.

Cooperation: This is a cooperation of the Geocomputation Group of the University of Zurich with the GISLab.

State and Outcome: The final presentations of the results, in the form of a journal publication, is under examination. Results of the first case-study, focusing on the UK, have been published as a short paper and presented at GIScience2014.

Climbing, Fighting and Talking to Mountains: What Alpine Narratives Reveal About Our Spatial Experience

Motivation and Goal: The general goal of this project is to explore user generated descriptions and develop suitable methods for working with large corpora. In particular, we are interested in examining the way people address their experiences in non-urban natural space through the prism of alpine narratives found in blogs and on the alpine clubs` webpages. The starting point of the research is the non-universal character of space conceptualizations and its dependency on various aspects of context. We aim to study these aspects – those related to the physical world (such as the scale of activity), as well as those related to socially- and individually-dependent constructs (such as the sense of place). By focusing on a specific set of linguistic features – for example, landscape terms – we want to determine how they are used in different ways across different contexts.

Cooperation: This project constitutes the PhD thesis of Ekaterina Egorova, supervised by Prof. Ross Purves and Thora Tenbrink (Cognitive Linguistics Group, Bangor University).

State and Outcome: The PhD is in its second year. Additionally to a number of concept presentations, there is one research abstract for the 13th International Cognitive Linguistics Conference that resulted from this work.

Georeferencing Web Ngrams

Motivation and Goal: Ngrams (n-word combinations in combination with frequencies/probabilities) are used to index large bodies of written text. In recent years, Google as well as Bing allowed access to their Ngram collections representing all one to five word combinations on the Internet (i.e. hundreds of billions of web pages). This information has often been used in different scientific domains (e.g. computer linguistics, artificial intelligence, genetics, etc.). Geography, however, fell somewhat short in using Ngrams for spatial analysis or for learning about the use of geographic concepts. One important reason for this gap is that Ngrams are particular challenging for georeferencing, which is a precondition for the follow-up analysis. In this project our aim is to find means for associating arbitrary words or word combinations with spatial footprints, which in turn opens the door for an in-depth spatial analysis of a broad set of geographic research issues.

Cooperation: This projects started as a master thesis which is conducted under the supervision of the GISLab and Prof. Ross Purves.

State and Outcome: The project is in the starting phase.

Describe your City!

Motivation and Goal: How do people describe their urban environment in everyday life? This project aims to investigate spoken and spontaneous descriptions of urban places from multiple perspectives, by bringing expertise from computer linguistics, interactional linguistics and GIScience. The overall goal of the project is to find links between the physical environment, i.e. buildings, streets, but also colours and shapes, and the way a place is experienced. An umbrella question might be as follows: How much physical space is contained in place descriptions and how do physical and experienced spaces mutually interfere?

Cooperation: This project is a cooperation between the VideoLab (URPP Language and Space), Computer Linguistics at the University of Zurich, represented by Noah Bubenhofer and the GISLab.

State and Outcome: A proposal for the first case study has been submitted. A proposal for a research grant is in preparation.