Giving voice to space: the grammar of Northern Alta spatial roots

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Recent cross-linguistic studies on spatial language reveal a great diversity in the way languages encode spatial information. Yet, given that there are not many spatial studies that have systematically targeted languages with a Philippine-type voice system, it is not clear how spatial expression is structured in such languages. The aim of this study is to address this knowledge gap through an in-depth investigation of Northern Alta, a language presenting such a voice system. The study combines data from stimulus-based tasks with a modern documentation corpus of the language and elicited data to examine the linguistic strategies deployed in four different spatial subdomains: location, disposition, orientation, and routes. The results show that each subdomain favors a distinct set of derivational affixes and a particular set of lexical roots. It is argued that the morphological system of the language plays a crucial role in the structuring of spatial expression. It allows roots with spatial meanings such as ‘front’, ‘side’, ‘top’, and ‘back’ to derive a variety of spatial verbs that are key in several spatial domains. The study also shows that Philippine-type languages have important information to contribute to cross-linguistic studies of spatial language.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)351-387
Number of pages37
JournalFolia Linguistica
Issue number2
Early online date2022 Jun 30
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • General Language Studies and Linguistics
  • Specific Languages

Free keywords

  • grammar of space
  • Northern Alta
  • Philippine-type languages
  • relational nouns
  • spatial relations


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