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URPP Language and Space Spatial Boundaries and Transitions in Language and Interaction

Invited Speakers

Tom Güldemann (Humboldt University Berlin, Department of Asian and African Studies),
Linguistic macro-areas in Africa: when boundaries are areas themselves

Monday, 24. April 2017, 09:15-10:15

Recent research on linguistic typology in Africa has identified a macro-areal linguistic profile of the continent comprising half a dozen large entities that are each geographically extensive and involve a great number of partly diverse languages. Their delimitation in space has to be addressed by means of a more abstract conceptualization, notably in terms of an internal areal structuring of cores vs. peripheries and a non-abrupt transition from one macro-area to another. Accordingly, the concept of areal “boundary” also assumes a more abstract meaning. In particular, boundaries are not clear-cut lines of demarcation but rather areas in their own right, namely “frontier zones” in between two macro-areas. The talk will discuss several such configurations and thereby elucidate the relationship between area and boundary in areal linguistics.


Peter Auer (University of Freiburg, Department of German Studies)
Walking and talking: how speakers jointly manoeuver in space

Monday, 24. April 2017, 10:45-11:30

Walking together requires a high degree of interpersonal coordination, particularly in crowded spaces, when obstacles are in the way, or when one or more of the walkers do not know the way (exactly). The challenge even increases when the walkers are at the same time talkers. On the one hand, talk about non-related topics has to be be abandoned and resumed when bodily coordination requires it; on the other hand, topical talk can be interrupted by situated talk linked to way-finding and manoevering in space, and hence become a resource for the latter.
 In my talk, I will present preliminary findings based on eye-tracking technology for investigating the relationship between talk and body movements while walking in a dyadic constellation. I will particularly focus on participants' gaze, which is used by single walkers for orientation in space  (intrapersonal coordination), but may at the same time be visible for co-walkers and then become an interactional resource for walking together. I will focus on a particularly challenging extract in which the two walkers-talkers have to cross a street.


Setha Low (City University of New York, The Graduate Center, Public Space Research Group)
Language, Discourse and Space: A Conceptual Framework for the Ethnography of Space and Place

Tuesday, 25. April 2017, 09:15-10:15

The paper examines the ways in which language and discourse shape space and place and locates spatial analysis more firmly in understanding patterns of social interaction, communication strategies and linguistic practices. The emphasis on language and discourse provides a methodologically explicit way to understand how spatial meaning is produced, manipulated and controlled through everyday communications. Language and discourse analyses draw upon many of the theories and methodologies including the social construction of space as well as embodied spatial practices and meaning-based frameworks. The unstable semiological relationship of language to ideas, thoughts and objects that underlies a social constructivist approach to spatial analysis informs this discussion. Further an in-depth consideration of the material effects of language, its performative and discursive aspects and its ability to mark identity also plays a significant role in producing space and making sense of people and place interactions.

This discussion covers the many ways language and discourse function in constructing, producing and transforming space through everyday communications and national and global media and information circuits. It reviews the specific relationships of place naming; words and space; discourse and space; and textual approaches to the built environment. It concludes with a comparative ethnographic example of how talk reframes the social and spatial context of living in co-operative housing in Washington, D.C. and New York City.


Alfred Lameli (Philipps University Marburg, Forschungszentrum Deutscher Sprachatlas)
Intangible Borders – Linguistic Areas and Socio-Cultural Practices

Tuesday, 25. April 2017, 10:45-11:30

If a person moves from one town to another it is highly likely that he or she is pursuing a particular incentive. At first glance, one might assume that in 21st century Central Europe this incentive is economic in nature, such as job opportunities, lower rents etc. A closer look, however, reveals that many people, at least in Germany, are unwilling to move within a nation when the new location is distant culturally. It appears that there are intangible cultural borders within a nation that influence people’s behavior.

This is one result of a series of quantitative studies that we have performed in recent years. Most interestingly, from a linguistic point of view, there is a highly significant effect in both recent and historical dialects that is not captured by geographical distance, degrees of urbanity, political or religious borders and others. That is, a considerable amount of people avoids migration across the borders and transitions of linguistic areas.

In this paper I will demonstrate that this is rather typical behavior that can be replicated and substantiated with other non-linguistic phenomena. It will be argued that such behavior is due to long-standing routines and experiences that are tightened in social interaction.


Ruth Wodak (Lancaster University, Department of Linguistics and English Language)
'The Language of Walls' - Analyzing Rightwing Populist Discourse

Tuesday, 25. April 2017 (evening)

Inclusion and exclusion of migrants and refugees are renegotiated in the European Union on almost a daily basis: ever new policies defining and restricting immigration are proposed by EU-ropean member states. A re-nationalization can be observed, on many levels: traditions, rules, languages, visions, and imaginaries are affected. Walls have  again – become symbols of belonging inside – or of being excluded and having to stay outside! Should we thus agree with Robert Frost’s famous phrase "Good fences make good neighbors."? (see R. Frost, „Mending Fences“).

In my lecture, I will analyze these recent developments in respect to immigration and asylum policies across Europe from a discourse-historical perspective, especially in respect to the rise of right-wing populist parties across Europe (Wodak 2015, The Politics of Fear, Sage): I focus on the discursive construction of national and transnational identities and related border and body politics’: Who are the neighbors, who the strangers? Who proposes – and why – to ‘save’ our country from strangers? The data - analyzed both qualitatively and quantitatively - consist of a range of genres, from the UK, Austria, Germany, France, etc (citizenship tests and language tests, party programs, TV documentaries, and election campaign materials).


Christian Berndt (University of Zurich, Department of Geography)
Human geography's borders

Wednesday, 26. April 2017, 09:15-10:15

After giving a selective, condensed overview of the way “border” and “boundary” have been employed as concepts in human geography, this talk engages with contemporary mobilizations of these concepts in the discipline. Special emphasis will be put on progressive conceptualizations of border and place at a time when methodological and political nationalism appear to be firmly back on the agenda. I illustrate my arguments with empirical material from my longstanding research on Ciudad Juárez, a troubled city at the Mexican-US-border.


Barbara Tversky (Stanford University, Department of Psychology)
Clarity and Ambiguity

Wednesday, 26. April 2017, 10:45-11:30

Clarity is often desired, indeed necessary, for quotidian affairs like train schedules, theater seats, and club membership and certainly for more serious affairs like citizenship, wedding dates, legal verdicts, and country boundaries. Yet determining boundaries is fraught with difficulties, and for many activities, like diplomacy and creativity, ambiguity can be productive. Results from experiments on creativity, design, categorization, and problem solving will illustrate both sides of the issues.


Daniel R. Montello (University of California, Santa Barbara, Department of Geography)
The Cognition of Boundaries and Regions in Geography and Geographic Information Science

Thursday, 27. April 2017, 09:15-10:15

Geographic boundaries divide the inside of a geographic region from its outside.  They are conceptually one-dimensional but often so vague as to merit being recognized as geometrically two-dimensional.  Geographic regions themselves are (approximately) two-dimensional pieces of Earth surface.  No two places on the Earth’s surface are identical, but by generalizing over unique characteristics, we identify (mostly) contiguous sets of places that are similar to each other but dissimilar from places in other regions.  Thus, regionalization is spatial categorization.  Regions play an important role in the way geographers and other scholars organize their thinking and communication about the Earth, including its representation and manipulation in digital geographic information systems.  They also play a central role in the way laypersons think and communicate, likely including people from all times and cultures.  That is, regionalization—including circumscription by boundaries—is very likely to be universal, cognitively and culturally.  In my talk, I discuss the fundamental concept of geographic regions and regionalization, including the nature of regional boundaries and their properties.  I then focus specifically on cognitive regions—regions in the mind that reflect how individuals or cultures informally organize the Earth’s surface.  I overview several empirical studies on the measurement and characterization of cognitive regions and boundaries, including studies on how they influence spatial and thematic judgments.


Frans Gregersen (University of Copenhagen, Department of Scandinavian Studies and Linguistics)
Changing relationships between cities and their surroundings - with special reference to dialect levelling and language mixing

Thursday, 27. April 2017, 10:45-11:30

It is well-known that there is a crucial difference between smaller cities which are dominated by their region and larger cities which dominate theirs. In my presentation I will

  • discuss the concept of the city through history in order to shed light on their varying importance for language change
  • and relate this discussion to the disciplines which have been studying the rural (dialectology) or the metropolis (sociolinguistics) speech communities
  • exemplify throughout with primarily the development of Copenhagen, Denmark, and the changing relationships between Copenhagen lects and those of the surrounding countryside

A concluding section will argue that present day metropolises are not only diverse as to the local language varieties but also include minorities speaking a multitude of different languages. Theoretical debates on multilingualism and contact varieties will decide how we look upon the resulting speech communities.