Lameen Souag, of Jabal al-Lughat, made a thoughtful comment on part 2 of my review of Guy Deutscher's book Through The Language Glass. and I wanted to post my response because I think it brings up an interesting question about concepts that are embodied and how.
"North" and "south" have nothing to do with a human body's orientation; the only aspect of human-ness relevant to the cardinal directions is that of being located on a small enough part of a rotating sphere, which applies equally to, yes, amoebas, and every other organism on Earth. (Obviously, from the observer's perspective it's the sky that's rotating.) The difference in question is between a coordinate system based on the observer's body's orientation and one based on the orientation of his/her environment (his planet for cardinal directions, the slope of the ground for "uphill/downhill", etc.) The term "ego-centric" may or may not be the most apt way to describe this difference, but the difference is clear.
Lameen, I respectfully disagree that "north" and "south" are not fundamentally human concepts. They are concepts, hence they are filtered by our cognitive system, vulnerable to all the strange and wonderful biases and alterations that systems bears on all concepts.
So what is so human about north? Well, what is north? It's a direction away from me, right? One can never be at north. There is always a north of north (except in the rare case of standing atop the exact north pole, but that doesn't seem relevant).
But that alone doesn't make it human. Imagine a GY speaker were as big as the sun (this is a thought experiment, so reality means nothing, haha). Would saying that a tree is north of a river mean anything? The scale would be too small. Imagine a GY speaker said that an electron was north of a nucleus or that a tree was to the Pacific Ocean of a river. Would any of those uses of cardinal directions make sense?
No, because the scale would make them incoherent. The direction concepts north and south are determined, at least in part, by our human scale, hence embodied. We conceptualize them as a point, somewhere far off in the distance, and we can point to them. But this is an embodied conceptualization which only makes sense for things in the human scale.
I believe there's more than just human scale at work too, but I don't have enough time to get into it right now, but I think this is a worthwhile topic.
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