Representing Spatial Structure Through Maps and Language: Lord of the Rings Encodes the Spatial Structure of Middle Earth


should be sent to Max M. Louwerse, Department of Psychology/Institute for Intelligent Systems, University of Memphis, 202 Psychology Building, Memphis, TN 38152. E-mail:


Spatial mental representations can be derived from linguistic and non-linguistic sources of information. This study tested whether these representations could be formed from statistical linguistic frequencies of city names, and to what extent participants differed in their performance when they estimated spatial locations from language or maps. In a computational linguistic study, we demonstrated that co-occurrences of cities in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit predicted the authentic longitude and latitude of those cities in Middle Earth. In a human study, we showed that human spatial estimates of the location of cities were very similar regardless of whether participants read Tolkien’s texts or memorized a map of Middle Earth. However, text-based location estimates obtained from statistical linguistic frequencies better predicted the human text-based estimates than the human map-based estimates. These findings suggest that language encodes spatial structure of cities, and that human cognitive map representations can come from implicit statistical linguistic patterns, from explicit non-linguistic perceptual information, or from both.