"Natural concepts" revisited in the spatial-topological domain: Universal tendencies in focal spatial relations

AbstractIt has long been noted that the best examples, or foci, of color categories tend to align across diverse languages (Berlin & Kay, 1969)--but there is limited documentation of such universal foci in other semantic domains. Here, we explore whether spatial topological categories, such as "in" and "on" in English, have focal members comparable to those in color. We document names and best examples of topological spatial relations in Dutch, English, French, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, and Spanish, and find substantial consensus, both within and across languages, on the best examples of such spatial categories. Our results provide empirical evidence for focal best examples in the spatial domain and contribute further support for a theory of "natural concepts" in this domain.

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