The Influence of Animacy and Spatial Relation Complexity on the Choice of Frame of Reference in German

  • Katarzyna StoltmannEmail author
  • Susanne Fuchs
  • Manfred Krifka
Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 11034)


Robotics and automatization have become a part of our everyday life. This often involves locating and moving objects in space, hence spatial expressions are of great importance for any human-machine interface. Improper interpretation of spatial terms, for instance in medicine, can have enormous consequences. Thus, it is important to understand how humans perceive and describe spatial relations. This article discusses the impact of animacy of reference objects. We test whether animacy of the reference object itself, or in the presence of an animate agent, influences the way participants interpret spatial relations. Our experimental results (mouse tracking, 46 German speakers) show that participants interpret spatial relations with a localized object in front of or behind an animate reference object more frequently with respect to the intrinsic frame of reference than with an inanimate reference object. In contrast, in spatial relations of the second horizontal axis (left versus right), participants interpreted the situations more frequently using the intrinsic frame of reference with an inanimate reference object. When another agent is present, we observe a perspective shift from intrinsic to relative. We conclude that the animacy of an intrinsic reference object as well as the introduction of an agent lead to perspective changes.


Spatial cognition Frames of reference Mouse tracking 



This work was supported by a grant from the BMBF (Ministry of Education and Research, 01UG1411) as well as Leibniz Association to all authors. We would like to thank Olivia Maky for proof reading and Luke Tudge for statistical advice and our participants.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Katarzyna Stoltmann
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Susanne Fuchs
    • 2
  • Manfred Krifka
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Humboldt-UniversityBerlinGermany
  2. 2.Leibniz-Center General Linguistics (ZAS)BerlinGermany

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