LING 640G: Language, Landscape and Space

Fall 2021
Wednesday 3:00-5:30 pm HST | virtual

Note: we will attempt to adjust the meeting times for this course to accommodate student schedules.


This course provides an introduction to the study of the complex interrelationships between language, landscape, and space. We examine the way that spatial concepts–particularly those linked to the landscape–are encoded in grammar. Although landscape permeates the human experience, the domain of landscape is a particularly challenging one for language documentation. Recent research has shown that typical landscape categories such as MOUNTAIN and RIVER are not universal semantic primitives but are in fact realized differently in different languages. Landscape is an essentially continuous domain, and the segmentation of this domain into discrete categories reflects a linguistic (and cultural) choice.

Topics to be addressed include spatial cognition, frames of reference, spatial grammar, directional systems, wayfinding, and ethnophysiography. In addition, we will provide a hands-on introduction to tools for geolinguistic documentation, including GPS mapping, GIS software, and participatory mapping. We will consider case studies from a diverse selection of languages in order to better understand the range of ways that landscape is encoded in human language. Wherever possible we will draw on related disciplines–including geography, philosophy, ecology, and anthropology–in order to move toward an ethnoscience of landscape which seeks to understand human conceptualization of land, water, and other physical aspects the natural environment.

Course Objectives and Student Learning Outcomes

At the end of this course students will be able to:

  • describe the significance of landscape as a linguistic domain
  • provide examples of how putatively universal landscape categories are realized across various languages
  • know how to collect and identify generic landscape terms and toponyms
  • use GPS for field mapping
  • use QGIS, Google Maps and R for managing geo-linguistic data


  • Course Readings, as assigned (available on GoogleDrive); file naming convention: lastname-year-descriptive_title.pdf.

For more information see the complete syllabus.