Representing Spatial Structure Through Maps and Language: Lord of the Rings encodes the spatial structure of Middle Earth

Max M. Louwerse, Nick Benesh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Spatial mental representations can be derived from linguistic and non-linguistic sources of information. This study tested whether these representations could be formed from statistical linguistic frequencies of city names, and to what extent participants differed in their performance when they estimated spatial locations from language or maps. In a computational linguistic study, we demonstrated that co-occurrences of cities in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit predicted the authentic longitude and latitude of those cities in Middle Earth. In a human study, we showed that human spatial estimates of the location of cities were very similar regardless of whether participants read Tolkien's texts or memorized a map of Middle Earth. However, text-based location estimates obtained from statistical linguistic frequencies better predicted the human text-based estimates than the human map-based estimates. These findings suggest that language encodes spatial structure of cities, and that human cognitive map representations can come from implicit statistical linguistic patterns, from explicit non-linguistic perceptual information, or from both.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1556-1569
Number of pages14
JournalCognitive Science
Volume36
Issue number8
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 5 Oct 2012
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Spatial cognition
  • Embodied cognition
  • Geographical structures
  • Cognitive maps
  • Mental representations
  • Symbol interdependency
  • Latent semantic analysis

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