The phenomenon of time has always fascinated human beings. Humans’ desire to control time is demonstrated by the categories that are accorded it. Cultures that compartmentalise time according to days, weeks and months allow it to be processed into mentally digestible segments. Similarly, attributing terms such as yesterday and tomorrow is one way that these cultures maintain a sense of self in the midst of this phenomenon. The majority of the studies that will be discussed in the following essay operate under the TIME IS SPACE metaphor.
These metaphors were first constructed in this TARGET DOMAIN IS/AS SOURCE DOMAIN format in the seminal work of Lakoff and Johnson (1980) and their influence can be seen throughout this essay. The TIME IS SPACE metaphor is one way of establishing the viewpoint that space and time are inseparable in our mental processing of them. In addition, the structure of this metaphor is indicative that TIME IS SPACE but the reverse is not necessarily correct. Boroditsky’s 2000 work investigates to what extent this unidirectionality is true and the results of this will be discussed in section 1. This spatial situation in time leads to a distinction between metaphors of an ego-moving perspective and a time-moving perspective. Previous studies support this distinction (see Gentner et al., 1999, McGlone & Harding, 1998). An ego-moving perspective considers time as a static timeline that the observer moves along whilst a time-moving perspective posits the observer as the stationary object and time as moving (Athanasopoulos et al: 2016, 1).
These metaphors form the foundation of the first major focus of this study: motion through time. As mentioned, Boroditsky’s 2000 experiments will introduce this section followed by Núñez, Motz and Teuscher’s 2006 experiments that expand upon Boroditsky’s initial findings. This section will be concluded with an evaluation of Rothe-Wulf, Beller and Bender (2014) any cross-linguistic differences that are exposed.
The second section of this study centres on temporal succession. Temporal succession involves studying time along either a horizontal or vertical axis. Furthermore, it considers the significance of sequencing events such as yesterday and tomorrow along these axes. This section will follow a similar structure to the first. To begin, several studies will be introduced in order to gain a relative understanding of temporal succession as a focus. The ability of humans to contemplate events in the past and consider those in the future illustrates the notion of ‘mental time travel’ or chronesthesia. The body of work that has this phenomenon as its focus are Miles, Nind and Macrae’s 2010 and Macrae, Miles and Best’s 2012 studies, both of which will be discussed further in the temporal succession section of this essay. The second half of this section will then look more closely at evidence that supposes significant cross-cultural variation in the mental cognition of metaphors.
Casasanto and Boroditsky’s 2008 and Casasanto’s 2005 experiments will be used to discuss the final section of this study: temporal duration. These studies rely upon the TIME IS SPACE metaphor that was defined previously. Their purpose was to identify whether there was any “language-specific spatial interference in time estimation” (Bylund, E., & Athanasopoulos, P, 2017: 4). That is to say, whether the language used and the metaphors that language employs has an effect upon the participant’s ability to judge duration. The counterpoint to these studies will be Sinha, Sinha, Zinken and Sampaio’s 2011 work that refutes the universality claim made of the TIME IS SPACE metaphor. They argue this claim with the support of culturally-specific “cognitive artefacts”.
Their work also supports the evidence concerning the cultural specificity of metaphors that is mentioned first in the latter half of section 2. Motion Through Time – BoroditskyBoroditsky’s study of Metaphorical Structuring View (MSV) has its roots in the work of Lakoff and Johnson, specifically their attention to Conceptual Metaphor Theory. One of the premises these theories share is the rejection of the division between figurative language and literal language. Instead they posit evidence that metaphors are conducive and necessary to our processing of concepts both concrete and abstract (Lakoff, 1992). Boroditsky argues that the MSV can “provide relational structure” that allows for more abstract concepts to be realised mentally outside of the experiential domain (2000: 3). Murphy’s (1996) first major criticism of Lakoff’s evidence is that it is limited to linguistics and confinement to one field of study is not enough to make a conclusion about the nature of human thought. The second is that it was not a theory that had been sufficiently tested. Boroditsky sought to rectify the second criticism with a specific focus on the ability of metaphors to use information from concrete domains to organise abstract domains (2000: 3).
In the case of spatiotemporality, Boroditsky sought to discover whether using different primers from the domain of space would alter a participant’s perception of time. The suggested spatial equivalents to ego-moving and time-moving as defined in the introduction are ego-moving and object-moving. By priming the participants with the spatial frames of reference, it was hypothesised that their responses would reflect the corresponding time metaphor. Boroditsky’s results indicated that spatial schemas did influence thinking about time. However, the inclusion of visual stimuli in the spatial primer could suggest that the linguistic input alone was not wholly responsible (Athanasopoulos et al.
, 2016: 7).Boroditsky’s second experiment investigated whether the TIME IS SPACE metaphor could function as SPACE IS TIME. This was approached by repeating the first experiment but switching the spatial primers and temporal primers. The results proved a weaker version of her Metaphoric Structuring view that concluded “spatial metaphors play a role in shaping the domain of time”, but they are not a prerequisite, nor do temporal schema demonstrate any correlation in priming spatial metaphors (Boroditsky, 2000: 4). Núñez and Sweetser’s 2006 paper continued where Boroditsky had left off but with two major developments. The first was the observance of time as a location that could exist without the need for a movement. The example of the appointments are too close together indicates the fixity of the two points in time relative to one another. The statement can also hold truth regardless of its location along the timeline.
This effectively renounced the absolute necessity of movement in time metaphors. The second was the recognition of time-moving metaphors that functioned without the presence of an ego such as Wednesday follows Tuesday. Núñez and Sweetser introduced the revised notion of time metaphors into ego reference point (ERP) and time reference point (TRP). The ERP metaphor considers the ego as representative of the present and encases both of the previous time-moving and ego-moving metaphors. The TRP metaphor is a new development that does not require a ‘present’ and denotes events that can remain true outside of a specified timeline (Núñez et al., 2006: 3).
Based on the above, Núñez, Motz and Teuscher carried out two experiments focusing on the TRP in order to prove that the ego was not necessary for the disambiguation of time metaphors. Several boxes were displayed moving horizontally on a screen with balls passing from one box to the next as they reached the centre. The participants were then asked questions to ascertain which box they considered the ‘first’ box and whether the balls were moving forward or backwards (Núñez et al., 2006).
The results proved the hypothesis that the ego “is not necessary for disambiguating spatio-temporal metaphoric terms” (8). A second experiment using 2D images to reduce the possibility of an implied ego confirmed this conclusion. Until now, the experiments that have been discussed have assumed the universality of the TIME IS SPACE metaphor. The evidence provided in the next experiment proposes a deviation from this norm with the introduction of Temporal Frames of Reference (T-FoR).
Rothe-Wulf, Beller and Bender define frames of reference “a coordinate system that allows one to identify relationships between two entities” (2014: 919). They suggest that the TIME IS SPACE metaphor differs cross-linguistically and is dependent upon the cultural environment. Adopted from Levison’s Spatial Frames of Reference (S-FoR), the three frames that are focused on in their experiments are Absolute, Intrinsic and Relative as outlined below.Absolute = The location of the Figure in reference the Ground upon a field with an orientation exclusive of both Figure and Ground.Intrinsic = The location of the Figure in reference to the Ground upon a field with an orientation of the Ground.
Relative = The location of the Figure in reference to the Ground upon a field oriented around a Viewpoint.(Athanasopoulos et al: 2016, 12)The experiment monitors the preferred T-FoR employed by speakers of Swedish, German and US English. The rationale behind choosing these three languages is that they all share Germanic roots. Therefore, Rothe-Wulf et al. propose any differences must indicate an intra-cultural phenomenon and reject the argument that it is down to the ambiguity of a word (2014: 922). The participants’ were asked to correctly identify the day that would be by moving Wednesday’s meeting forward. This phrase was situated in both future and past contexts to improve the test’s validity.
The tests were also considered to measure the consistency of an individual’s answers to eliminate chance performance. The Swedish demonstrated an Absolute FoR and the Germans an Intrinsic FoR. On the other hand, the US English participants showed a mix of the two but were intra-individually consistent. The explanation behind this was considered to to be the inclination for an individual to become accustomed to a particular frame of reference across the tests (Rothe-Wulf et al., 2014: 926).
A second experiment of similar design conducted over several weeks tested the robustness of this intra-individual consistency and corroborated the results of the first test.Temporal successionThe first half of this segment will discuss a series of experiments by Macrae, Miles and Best and by Miles, Nind and Macrae that supply inconclusive results about the relative robustness of cross-linguistic differences in the cognition of spatio-temporal metaphors. Then, in the second half, the universality of the TIME IS SPACE metaphor will again be brought into question through a discussion of its cultural specificity. In the introduction, the notion of mental time travel was alluded to and is a crucial element in the discussion of temporal succession.
In essence, mental time travel can be understood in terms of retrospection and prospection. This is relevant to spatiotemporal metaphors as it is suggested that chronesthesia is related to the “sensorimotor systems that regulate human movement” (Miles et al., 2010: 222).Macrae, Miles and Best set out to find evidence to support the proposed link between mental time travel and sensorimotor systems by conducting an experiment that had participants use a computer mouse to indicate past or future. The findings showed a dominant mouse movement left for past and right for future. Whilst Macrae et al.
concluded that this indicated spatial information did have an impact on temporal cognition, they did not sufficiently account for socio-cultural influences such as reading direction. Furthermore, there was no indication in their study of the linguistic preference of the participants (Athanasopoulos et al. 2016, 15).
Miles, Nind and Macrae also neglected to take language into account when carrying out their experiment. However, by guiding participants to speak either of future or past events, Miles et al. perceived the inclination they had to sway minutely either forwards or backwards respectively. In doing so, they determined the physical effects that mental time travel had upon movement were reflective of the cognitive processes (Miles et al., 2010).
The limitation of this experiment is the difficulty in identifying which factor is responsible for the results. It is possible that the biological make-up of humans is a factor insofar as we are already preconditioned to approach the world from a forwards-moving perspective. Furthermore, as will be discussed in the following section, the metaphors common to one language may manifest differently in another. Following this, there would be an impact on the perception one has on time and in turn, the spatial relationship this stimulates.
Thus far the TIME IS SPACE metaphor has been dissected in terms of varying definitions of both time and space. Now, the dispute centres on the “cross cultural universals of metaphoric cognition” (Núñez et al., 2006: 402).
Previously, Rothe-Wulf, Beller and Bender countered the TIME IS SPACE metaphor by proposing the cultural environment as a factor. The experiments organised by Núñez and Sweetser test the universality of the TIME IS SPACE metaphor by locating other metaphors as dominant in governing a culture’s spatiotemporal cognition. Furthermore, I argue that this section provides stronger evidence for the crosslinguistic differences in spatiotemporal metaphor cognition. This is due to the increased focus of these experiments on both inter-cultural and intra-cultural comparison. A supplementary focus of these experiments is the inclusion of gesture within the observations.
Núñezand Sweetser’s 2006 paper mentioned previously that defined the revised notion of ERP and TRP also used this development to analyse the language, Aymara. They noted that the words for temporal conditions PAST and FUTURE were the same as the words for FRONT and BACK respectively. This observation is contrary to the existing evidence for the metaphorical coding binding space to time. The Aymara are one of the first documented cases that exhibit an inclination to reverse temporal succession in terms of both future/past and posteriority/anteriority. Future and past are indicators of a time either after or before the present. In this example, the reference point upon the timeline is the present. On the other hand, posteriority and anteriority are relevant to reference points that can be located anywhere along the timeline (Núñez et al.
, 2006: 404). Through observation, Núñez et al. identify two distinct uses of the word nayra which in Aymara can mean either in front or earlier than depending on context. These definitions were also indicative of either an ERP dominant focus for in front and a TRP focus for earlier than (415). This led the researchers to posit an alternative metaphor, KNOWLEDGE IS VISION. They pursued further evidence to support their findings.
Núñez and Sweetser looked to gesture to corroborate their findings so far as they considered it “a less conscious and monitored track than language” (403). Furthermore, gesture exists within the same domain as space, thereby offering a concrete manifestation of spatiotemporal metaphors based on the assumption that gesture is produced in tandem with language. The language of Aymara has also seen cross-linguistic influence with Spanish terms being adopted into the native speak. Interestingly, despite adopting words from another language, older Aymara speakers still encode these words within their own metaphorical structure (Athanasopoulos, 2016: 16). Indeed, the gestures of speakers of Aymara replicated their native language metaphor structure as forward gestures indicated past events and backwards gestures future events.
There was an element of generation change within the findings with younger generations tending to replicate forward/future and backwards/past action. Regardless of either metaphor or language, the more spatial distance the gesture covered, the further away from the self the event took place temporally (Núñez et al., 2006: 438). This suggested that gestural behaviour was a result of cognitive patterning and not limited to linguistics.