I am working on the directions and spatial stuff in a conlang currently, and wondering why conceptually we have words for the y-axis, but not the x-axis or z-axis?

  • above/on top of (that one isn't a word for some reason)
  • below/under
  • top
  • bottom

But we don't have words for these:

  • beyond the right side (like above/below)
  • beyond the left side
  • beyond the front side
  • beyond the back side
  • on the right side (like top/bottom)
  • on the left side
  • on the front side
  • on the back side

We have right/left/up/down/forward/backward, but for some reason in English at least we don't have simple words for this. Why is that, is there some fundamental reason? Do any languages, conlangs or not, have words for these sorts of things? Wondering what the spectrum looks like.

Top/bottom are like because of gravity pulling everything "down". So you can stack on the top, or put below. But put to the right side of, there's no force of gravity tugging in that direction, so maybe that's why?

1 Answer 1


We have an absolute frame of reference for up and down (namely which direction gravity pulls), but no absolute frame of reference for left and right. What I consider to be "left" as I type this is almost certainly not the same direction you consider to be "left" as you read it.

We do have words like "behind", using relative directions. Swahili treats "on top of" (juu ya) and "in front of" (mbele ya) the same way it treats "beneath" (chini ya) and "behind" (nyuma ya); Latin has a single word for "in front of" but no single word for "behind". It's really just a historical accident that English has a single word for some of these and needs multiple words for others (we used to have "before" but it's seldom used with that meaning now).

Using relative directions for horizontal things is not universal, though. Some indigenous languages of Australia use absolute directions for everything, with basic words for "north of", "south of", "east of", and "west of" (or equivalent in their coordinate system).

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