Spatial Language in Computer Mediated Communication

Spatial Language in Computer Mediated Communication

Shaun Lawson (University of Lincoln, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-020-2.ch013
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People use spatial language in everyday face-to-face conversation, and we also now use such language during everyday computer-mediated interactions. Commonly, such interactions can take place over mobile phones or in shared virtual environments such as multiplayer games. However, to date, very few academic studies have looked at how people’s use and understanding of spatial language might differ when it is computer mediated. Our own experimentation has investigated the relation between the uses of route, survey, and also gaze perspectives in a simple virtual environment.
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Spatial language is used by people to describe the spatial relationships between objects in an environment. For instance, we often use phrases such as “the mobile phone is to the left of the coffee mug,” or “I am standing in front of the church.” In order to guide another person to a goal, people can give each other directives that also make use of spatial language such as “take the next turning right” or “wait under the big blue sign.” Spatial and directional language has been studied extensively in cognitive psychology when given verbally or in writing (e.g., Levelt, 1982; Taylor, & Tversky, 1992 1996; Tversky, Lee, & Mainwaring, 1999), and even when given in sign language and iconic gesturing (e.g., Emmorey, Tversky, & Taylor, 2000). There is no easily definable set of grammar that is used to construct spatial language, though it frequently makes use of prepositions: “the phone is on the table,” or “I am under the sign,” for instance. We are also flexible in the way that we use spatial language: when viewing a scene, for instance, people necessarily have a perspective on it (Tversky, 1994), but we can free ourselves from this and we are able to put ourselves in other perspectives, such as that of another person. This can be useful (for instance when giving directions), but how, when, and why we switch between perspectives is an open research topic, as we shall discuss later in this chapter.

We use spatial language everyday in abundance and in many contexts, for instance, we are all familiar with giving people directions to our home, office, or a mutual meeting place. Sometimes these interactions take place off-line, such as when we wish to give directions to someone who we are to meet at a particular location later that day, or just as frequently, they can take place online or in real time, such as when we are a passenger in a car and are directing the driver to a location that is unfamiliar to them. Following on from the latter scenario, many people are now also familiar with in-car locative GPS satellite navigation systems that use prerecorded, though location aware, segments of spatial language to direct drivers to unfamiliar locations. Indeed, examples of how technology is now being used as a platform to support interactions that use spatial language are commonplace. For instance, many people will have experienced the scenario in which, whilst waiting at a rendezvous point in a public space, the person whom we are waiting to meet actually calls on their mobile phone and a renegotiation of the meeting point takes place in real time. Such exchanges often feature phrases such as “I’m walking east towards the big white statue” and usually culminate in statements such as “can you see me now?”. This particular scenario was identified by Ling and Yttri (2002) as one of their four forms of microcoordination that people take up during mobile phone use. Mobile locative services that use spatial language are also under development for people with visual impairments, for instance, the Italian Easy Walk system generates verbal instructions for blind people based on their GPS-derived location.

Another common example of discourse featuring spatial language occurs between two parties when one is driving to the other’s location; quite often in this case either one or both parties might have a two-dimensional map with them that could be referred to in their verbal exchanges. The advent of locative technology also of course makes it possible for maps to be presented on handheld digital devices in such scenarios (e.g., Kray et al., 2003). However, despite the ubiquitous established use of mobile phones, the emergence of locative applications, and a general acceptance that such technology has had a profound impact on human behaviour (e.g., see Ling, 2004), very few studies have examined conversations on mobile phones that feature spatial or directional language.

Complete Chapter List

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Table of Contents
Chapter 1
Alan Dix
Map, mazes, myths, magic, and mathematics, computation, cognition, community, and the constructed environment, all reveal something of our internal... Sample PDF
Paths and Patches: Patterns of Geognosy and Gnosis
Chapter 2
Jon Kerridge
This chapter concerns the question of how people navigate through a space in which other people are also present. Issues addressed include how the... Sample PDF
Let's Meander Through a Measured Space
Chapter 3
Matthew Leach
The Speckled Computing project is a large multisite research project based in Scotland, UK. The aim of the project is to investigate, prototype, and... Sample PDF
Navigating a Speckled World: Interacting with Wireless Sensor Networks
Chapter 4
John Willy Bakke
Workplaces are key loci for expressing and studying organizational identity, even in distributed work. In organization studies, there is a growing... Sample PDF
Contested Terrain: Place, Work, and Organizational Identities
Chapter 5
Anne Sofie Laegran
The chapter is based on a study of Internet cafés in Norway, and interrogates the way space and place is produced in interconnections between people... Sample PDF
Technosocial Space: Connecting People and Places
Chapter 6
Lynne Hall
This chapter discusses artists’ use of virtual space to collaboratively create a digital stained-glass rose window. It explores the use of virtual... Sample PDF
Reconfiguring the Rose: An Exploration of the Use of Virtual Space by Artists Collaboratively Creating Digital Stained Glass
Chapter 7
Elin K. Jacob
In distinguishing between space and place, one approach is to contrast the physicality of space with the sociality of place: space directs attention... Sample PDF
Context, Boundedness, and Structure: The Apprehension of Place in the Development of Information Environments
Chapter 8
Richard Coyne
The widespread use of mobile telephony prompts a reevaluation of the role of the aural sense in spatial understanding. There are clear correlations... Sample PDF
Voice and Space: Agency of the Acousmêtre in Spatial Design
Chapter 9
Susan Turner
This chapter considers the role of sound, and more specifically, listening, in creating a sense of presence (of “being there”) in “places” recreated... Sample PDF
Listening, Corporeality, Place and Presence
Chapter 10
Stephen Boyd Davis
The chapter is concerned with the relationship between the planar space of graphic representations and the world space that they represent. To... Sample PDF
Representing Space: The Pictorial Imperative
Chapter 11
Fiona Carroll
The art of the visual-narrative is not a new phenomenon. Artists and designers have been using images to tell stories for thousands of years. From... Sample PDF
The Spatial Development of the Visual-Narrative from Prehistoric Cave Paintings to Computer Games
Chapter 12
Shaleph O’Neill
The Situationists defined the increasingly spectacularized society (The Society of the Spectacle ) as the alienation of the individual by an... Sample PDF
The Interactive Spectacle and the Digital Situationist
Chapter 13
Shaun Lawson
People use spatial language in everyday face-to-face conversation, and we also now use such language during everyday computer-mediated interactions.... Sample PDF
Spatial Language in Computer Mediated Communication
Chapter 14
Phil Turner
Recent years have witnessed a number of initiatives to develop technology (“memory prosthetics”) to enhance and extend human memory. Typical of... Sample PDF
Space, Place, and Memory Prosthetics
Chapter 15
Julian Warner
This chapter is concerned with exposing the material basis for the concepts of the syntagm and paradigm from linguistics, and the message and... Sample PDF
Materializing Communication Concepts: Linearity and Surface in Linguistics and Information Theory
Chapter 16
Sándor Darányi, Péter Wittek
Current methods of automatic indexing, automatic classification, and information retrieval treat index and query terms, that is, vocabulary units in... Sample PDF
On Information, Meaning, Space and Geometry
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