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Keywords:

  • Cognitive ethnography;
  • Spatial frames of reference;
  • Gesture;
  • Everyday cognition;
  • Language and thought;
  • Embodied cognition;
  • Aymara;
  • Whorfian hypothesis

Abstract

The Aymara of the Andes use absolute (cardinal) frames of reference for describing the relative position of ordinary objects. However, rather than encoding them in available absolute lexemes, they do it in lexemes that are intrinsic to the body: nayra (“front”) and qhipa (“back”), denoting east and west, respectively. Why? We use different but complementary ethnographic methods to investigate the nature of this encoding: (a) linguistic expressions and speech–gesture co-production, (b) linguistic patterns in the distinct regional Spanish-based variety Castellano Andino (CA), (c) metaphorical extensions of CA’s spatial patterns to temporal ones, and (d) layouts of traditional houses. Findings indicate that, following fundamental principles of Aymara cosmology, people, objects, and land—as a whole—are conceived as having an implicit canonical orientation facing east, a primary landmark determined by the sunrise. The above bodily based lexicalizations are thus linguistic manifestations of a broader macro-cultural worldview and its psycho-cognitive reality.