Absolute Spatial Frames of Reference in Bilingual Speakers of Endangered Ryukyuan Languages: An Assessment via a Novel Gesture Elicitation Paradigm

AbstractWe experimentally investigate, by means of a novel gesture-elicitation paradigm, the spontaneous spatial frames of reference (FoRs) used by bilingual individuals who speak Japanese (which has been labeled as a “relative” language) and one of the endangered Ryukyuan languages (Miyako or Shiraho) whose speakers have been reported to routinely use absolute FoRs. How would these last elderly bilingual speakers spontaneously resolve the clashing FoRs the two languages they speak bring forth? We find that despite the fact that Japanese and these Ryukyuan languages have full corresponding grammatical and lexical resources for expressing both, relative and absolute FoR, Ryukyuan speakers tend to markedly prefer the latter gesturally. Methodologically, the results, which are consistent with data obtained with standard FoRs methods, corroborate the reliability of the novel gesture elicitation task, which adds to the battery of techniques for studying FoRs a method that assesses effortless spontaneous real-time cognition with high ecologically validity.

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