Monday, 13 September 2010

Down and Up in the UK

A former English Language student (now a Doctor of Psycholinguistics--yippee!) and I were talking about doing a study of how people use and understand 'down' and 'up' in directions in British English.  There are some issues with London, Oxford, and Cambridge having 'up' status for various people in various contexts, but there's also the question of whether 'down' is perceived as 'south' or if it's 'toward the coast' or if it shifts depending on whether you're on a hill or not. 

There's been a lot interest in prepositions in Cognitive Linguistics, but I don't think this aspect of down/up has been examined.  Part of the question is: do English speakers understand down/up to be 'cardinal directions' (i.e. like north/south).  Something has been made of the fact that English speakers give directions with left/right, rather than north/south/east/west.  Does use of down indicate that we are more aware of the cardinal directions than might be thought from the relative lack of cardinal direction terms in our language use?


  1. I don't believe this. Literally five minutes ago, I just said to a friend that I would like to do this as my research project. I guess there are only so many ideas!

  2. Nothing to stop you doing it! And I'm sure that there's more than one project here...

  3. From Canada so may not be relevant. I lived in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I remember using "down to New Glasgow" (north of H) and up to Cape Breton (also north of H). I think there may be something more than cardinal directions going on. When I was in Ontario we used to say we were going "down to Nova Scotia" instead of "over to." Also, now in BC, "we go down to the Coast" from Golden in the Rockies, we go "down valley" to Cranbrook (but we are going up in elevation). It depends sometimes on context, sometimes on relationships. Going down to New Glasgow was "going home to family." Fascinating.
    My area of study is Political Science but I've found all kinds of contributions from other areas (anthropology, geography, linguistics, etc.) Thank you for your thought-provoking posts.

  4. Marc B. Leavitt21 March 2011 at 12:06

    Hi Lynne:

    You may not be aware of this, but here in New Jersey, we always go "down the shore" even though, for all of us inland, the shore is always to the east.


    Marc Leavitt

  5. Someone I know always talks about people 'coming down' (to her place). She lives in Bedford (UK). All her children live in counties to the south of Bedford, but this has never put her off asking any of them when they're next coming down!