How Relative is the Relative Frame of Reference? Front and back in Norwegian, Farsi, German, and Japanese


Across languages, people differ in which of the three basic frames of reference (FoRs) they prefer when describing spatial relations: absolute, intrinsic, or relative. But how much variation is there with regard to the relative FoR, which is anchored in the observer and occurs as one of three variants? Is the reflection variant canonical, as assumed by many scholars? And how are objects in a person’s back referred to: by turning towards the objects? Results from two studies, one with speakers of Norwegian and Farsi, the other with speakers of German and Japanese, reveal that reflection is not canonical, but that translation and even rotation are used as well. In addition, turning towards objects arranged in a person’s back is very rare; what people use instead is a backward projection strategy that goes without rotation.

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