Storytelling and Conversation
Discourse in Deaf Communities

Elizabeth Winston, Editor

from Chapter One:
Talking About Space with Space:
Describing Environments in ASL

by Karen Emmeroy and Brenda Falgier

Spatial discourse - talking about space - usually involves adopting a particular perspective on the scene or environment being described. For example, an addressee may be taken on a mental tour of an environment, as in this example from Linde and Labov's (1975) study of New Yorker's descriptions of their apartments: "As you open the door, you are in a small five-by-five room which is a small closet. When you get past there, you're in what we call the foyer If you keep walking in that same direction, you're confronted by two rooms in front of you large living room which is about twelve by twenty on the left side. And on the right side, straight ahead of you again, is a dining room which is not too big (pg. 929)." Taylor and Tversky (1992; 1996) characterize this style of discourse as utilizing a route perspective in which landmarks and motion through the environment are described with respect to a viewer (usually "you" in English) using viewer-relational terms such as "left" and "right."

This type of perspective is contrasted with what Taylor and Tversky call a survey perspective in which the perspective is from above (a bird's eye view), landmarks are described with respect to other landmarks, cardinal direction terms are used (e.g., "north," "south"), and existential and stative verbs are used, rather than verbs of motion. The following is an excerpt from an apartment description from Linde and Labov which adopts a survey perspective: "The main entrance opens into a medium-sized foyer. Leading off the foyer is an archway to the living room which is the furthermost west room in the apartment. It's connected to a large dining room through double sliding doors. The dining room also connects with the foyer and main hall through two small arches. The rest of the rooms in the apartment all lead off this main hall which runs in an east-west direction (pg. 927)."

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