Spatial Prepositions, Functional Relations, and Lexical Specification
In this chapter a minimally specified approach to the lexical entries for (topological1) spatial prepositions is presented based on functional relations. To begin with, it is argued that fully specified accounts to the semantics of spatial terms manifest no advantages over minimally specified accounts, and furthermore that previous approaches in this domain, whether fully or minimally specified, are fundamentally flawed in that they conflate lexical concepts and categories. Functional relations are introduced as an alternative way of understanding spatial relations (Coventry, 1992, 1995; Garrod & Sanford, 1989; Talmy, 1988). It is argued that what is important about objects is how they interact with each other, that is, the functional relations between objects. A battery of empirical studies are reviewed that demonstrate that spatial language use is underdetermined by geometric relations in the input, and better predicted by functional relations reliant on object-specific knowledge. Given these data, a framework to the encoding and decoding problems is outlined encompassing mental models as an interface between language and the spatial world.