Spatial Strategies in the Description of Complex Configurations

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How people describe complex arrangements of objects in a small-scale setting has not been sufficiently investigated to predict when discourse strategies shift versus remain stable. In a study involving 100 native German participants, we investigated speakers' choices of perspective, as well as location and orientation information, when describing arrangements of doll's furniture. Results point to a dominant preference for relative reference frames using an external, observer-based perspective, independent of functional aspects in the arrangement but influenced by object orientation. Objects were described either in relation to another object in the arrangement or in relation to the arrangement as a whole, with approximately equal preference. The speaker's current or imagined position was seldom used for reference in location descriptions, although it regularly served as a basis for describing object orientation. Generally, description features in this study differed from earlier studies addressing individual object-to-object or large-scale descriptions, demonstrating the impact of scale, configuration, and discourse task on speakers' choices.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)237-266
JournalDiscourse Processes
Volume48
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2 May 2011
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