Spatial Boundaries and Transitions in Language and Interaction: Perspectives from Linguistics and Geography

Conference, April 23–28, 2017, Monte Verità

View over the Monte Verità and Ascona
Monte Verità, situated on a hill above Ascona and the Lake Maggiore


Spatial boundaries can be considered as real or imaginary lines separating two things. Hence we may find natural, social, linguistic or geographical boundaries. Boundaries are often visualized on maps, and the scientific discipline most obviously concerned with them is geography. Within linguistics, the fields of dialectology and typology are traditionally concerned with boundaries, in that they mark linguistic areas on maps. Aside from this local scale, interactional spaces emerge in concrete social situations. It is this micro level of face-to-face interaction and its delimination of being “inside” and “outside” that provides the focus of interactional linguistics. Linguistic boundaries are never clear-cut, but are better characterised as overlapping transitional spaces because of myriads of interaction episodes arising from migration and urbanisation. Moreover, human interaction is being transformed by new communi­cation technologies dissolving physical boundaries, while socio-cultural and linguistic ones may persist.

The interdisciplinary symposium “Spatial boundaries and transitions in language and interaction”, organised by the University Research Priority Program (URPP) "Language and Space" (University of Zurich) will combine perspectives from geography and linguistics, bringing together eminent experts and highly qualified young researchers from various linguistic fields (including contact linguistics, dialectology, sociolinguistics, cognitive linguistics and conversation analysis); cultural and human geography, anthropology, and geographical information science. It will address the role of boundaries and transitions at different levels, theoretically as well as empirically, and will bring focus to the methodological underpinnings of a wide range of relevant approaches.


The conference has three major objectives: to bridge the disciplinary boundaries between linguistics and geography, to provide new scientific insights into the roles of spatial boundaries, and to develop and exchange new methods for the measurement of boundaries in linguistics and interaction. As to the first objective, the conference brings together experienced and young researchers from hitherto rather separated sub-disciplines of linguistics and geography. As to the second goal, we want to launch a profound interdisciplinary debate on the issue of spatial boundaries by exploring why and how linguistic, natural and social boundaries change, how linguistic and spatial evolution proceeds, and how communicative spaces work. The third objective will be achieved by a workshop at the end of the conference, which also deals with the current impact of big data on linguistic and geographic research.

Core Topics and Sessions

The relevant disciplinary perspectives with regard to boundaries will be covered by talks from eminent experts. These include the roles of spatial boundaries within linguistic areas, within human geography, within interactional spaces, and within GIScience. The core topics of the conference will be developed within four sessions dedicated to different ways of conceiving, and representing boundaries. The sessions will be introduced by renowned experts in their field of research.