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HOW DOES OUR NATIVE LANGUAGE AFFECT OUR CONCEPTION OF TIME?

Concepts, especially abstract concepts, such as TIME, are different depending on the language and culture.

I've been reading articles from Lera Boroditsky
http://www-psych.stanford.edu/~lera/

and I was wondering where else I could find information about the difference conceptions of time in different languages ​​and cultures and how these conceptions are reflected in the grammar of the language.

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  • Nov 30 2011: Other things to add to the discussion:
    children learning to write (in England - don't know if that is relevant or not, i don't think it is) may write from left to right or right to left, whether right or left handed. even when able to write words, spell them appropriately and leave spaces between, they may still write 'backwards' from right to left. After a while, they stop, because of the habit of writing and reading from left to right. That doesn't mean they 'think' from left to right.
    i am right handed. If i am writing by hand I will write from left to right. If i am sketching out a plan, in words, i will often do this from right to left, in a circle, counter-clockwise.
    If i think of future time, I dont see it as in a line to the left or right. I see imagined pictures of the event, in front of me as if i am moving into that space or rather joining into it, pulled, like gravity. Even if an event is planned in detail, sometimes i don't 'see' or feel it so clearly and it doesn't happen.
    Future events that are chronologically further away, are just 'out there', nebulous, ranging in strength of definition or feeling. not as an isolated event but like a 'band' of significance.
    I rely on the coming together of other people and communication rather than a diary to place me in time.
    less significant events may be over to the left or right, ahead of me.these are events usually more important to others than me.
    I think that there is also an individual response to time, this may be socio-cultural or family heritage related. I do miss appointments or turn up to early and this is clearly related to the fact that i do not picture time in a linear way, unlike most of my colleagues, although i find it simpler to see the 'bigger picture' or potential consequences/significances of events. a difference that relates to individual intelligences?(Howard Gardner)
    Have you considered the australian aboriginal concept of time? Interesting to compare to the hopi or buddhist.
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      Dec 1 2011: Thank you for sharing. Just to clarify: I am not sure how the way a culture writes influences the left-right directionality of time, and if the writing convention influences that at all. They just seem to coexist and probably reinforce one another. Also, your experience of front/back time seems also to be shared by the majority of humans (although what is "front" and what is "back" may differ). The left-right model is a special case. It's more like if for some reason you think about the chronology of causation and decide if that would start from the left or from the right, in one culture most people would say right, in another left. You can see that in advertisements, for example: you get "DIRTY SHIRT - DETERGENT BOX - CLEAN SHIRT" and "CLEAN SHIRT - DETERGENT BOX - DIRTY SHIRT" with the same intended meaning, depending on what orientation is more common in a culture.

      I think that understanding the ordering of events in a linear model and understanding of temporal events as linear can be analyzed separately. The temporal events are easy - it's easy to learn than "11 o'clock" is earlier than "12 o'clock," so when you conceptualize "11 o'clock" as the time you did the laundry, and "12 o'clock" as the time you folded your clean clothes, you can say that you conceputalize time linearly. Also, when you feel that one event caused another, I feel there is usually some precession there for most people, but I think it's not necessarily temporal (a very subtle difference - you don't need to know about "time" to understand what happened first). But in a more general way, I can understand how your idea of causality would not be "step by step" but based on the importance and meaning of the causal links - since I think the same way. I find it hard (an effort) to think about what's happening or what happened in a linear way - I have this big bag of interrelated memories of an event but without many temporal links that I'm aware of. I like it when people explain sth as a whole.
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      Dec 1 2011: Thanks for this very interesting personal account of time and the sharing of your tendency to emanate your art counterclockwise..right to left in the same way the earth rotates on its axis and manifests the events which we refer to as time. (sun rise, sunset etc.)

      When I am painting I also work counterclockwise..naturally.

      I resonated too with your being out of synch with linear time. living from and within what I call intuitive time time I often seem to have large losses or gains in time as marked by a clock..I will have done seemingly nothing or very little and find an hour or more has passed or just as often will think by the huge number of completed activities that it must be many hours later and discover that it's been only a short interval of time..by the clock.

      At the same time I can attune to a specific clock time ( ege at :1:30 I have to leave to make that doctors appointment) and automatically stop work at 1:30 without ever looking at a clock.

      When I lived more by the clock in my professional life I wasn't aware of these thing as much ( unless I was out on a long blue water sail). It is living here were clock time is more or less insignificant to most of life that these different relationships with time have evolved ( for me, experientially)

      I think that language especially prevalent cultural language can suppress our ability to see and experience time ( and all else) in a natural and phenomenological way. "Time " as we actually expereience it is far more complex and flexible than we see when we define time by the clock. Our relationship with "time" is much more natural and indwelling than we normally have the oportunity to experience.

      There are simple excercise though that anyone can do to expereience that.

      ( I have a TED conversation going now called Occupy Language: Putting on the Mind of the 99% (or something like that)..it's about how the words we use without thinking limit our seeing and also our thinking
      • Dec 3 2011: thanks! you have reminded me of the waking up at the right time thing! i often do that - a minute before the alarm clock? Yes. I also have the dream thing - simultaneously dreaming when somethings happening, a friend having an accident at the same time as its happening. I'm not sure however if being in or out of the busy world does effect the being in touch thing - i think that being in a group, thinking and working in a group brings the group in synch - for example at work we often all turn up wearing the same colour (theres ten or more of us) and sometimes its an unusual colour.
        I think peoples concept of time depends on what they are proccupied with. If some one is a linear thinker then its sequential with maybe not much causality; other people think in a sporadic way, lots of plates spinning, all as important. Other people see thing on a different scale. Im not sure anymore if concepts of time and trad geographical location are as linked - there is a different sych between people who are global and those who are parochial. Langauge usually evolves around the preoccupations of the people using it as its a symbolic interpretation of thoughts. If you are in a group of people who do not share a language and witness how the made up language develops, it'l grow with the project. if theres no project, language doesnt develop, people spin off on their own. with different internet communities building i think the conceptual understanding of each will form from new sharings of understandings and this phenomenon will be the one to watch! activity and need create the style of communication, its intonation, tonality, pace of utterance, volume. the belief system or value system of the group develops from this. in a virtual world, how does the concept of time change?
        I'll have a look at the other TED conversation.
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          Dec 3 2011: Hi Rachel,

          So nice to meet you.

          Your comment is jam packed with time related goodies..great insight and observations that push the question here about language and time to other dimensions:

          inclusion of other parameters about how we experience, and therefore speak of time

          how participation in multi cultural collaborations and conversations gives rise to new language and to new pereceptions, new ways of seeing what we thought we saw clearly

          .Our bodies connection to "time" is very intriguing to me. My hypothesis would be this is universal..that all people for all time have possessed this "inner clock" as one of our faculties, or an aspect of our inner faculties. Western Culture sort of over rides and shuts off our connection to these inner faculties. Art, music, good converation ( that is mostly about listening), dance, rhythmic moving, chanting drumming all have the power to "excavate" the superficial cultural layer from which official "language" emerges, official cultural concepst of time are formed and shared, to a common and uiversal layer of inate and always operating gifts we all have and can draw on.

          Collaboration is also one of those magic keys to the interior kingdom and your observation points to that. The "in synch" you have with your work group.

          So my premise would be that if there is a common denominator across all cultures and peoples on "time" it is this inate, inbrorn body clock that pulses in synch with time as measured by the rotation of the earth ( the same pulse at which light is emitted from atomis which is what is used to establish "atomic time" the absolute universal tim eon earth as measured by a clock

          .I also love your reference to the power of multi cultural collaboration/converstion to also "break through", give rise to new language that expresses the new shared experience

          .Your comment gives me new thoughts and insights to the amazon tribe I wrote about here.
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    Dec 4 2011: Vaeria, asumo que habla español, por lo tanto me expreso en mi idioma-tiempo original: español-mexicano.
    Para nosotros los mexicanos el tiempo no existe. Creemos que es una invencion maligna que se suma a las plagas de la humanidad y por ello hemos creado una serie de palabras y conceptos idiomaticos que en lo cotidiano nos salvan del poder destructivo de Cronos. Por ejemplo le puedo decir la palabra : AHORITA...no es una palabra en si misma, es un universo que incluye tiempo y espacio en la dimension de la ambiguedad eterna. Sin limites, nuestras expresiones idiomaticas para referirnos al tiempo son siempre evanescentes, nos molestan las agendas, los programas, las precisiones de exactitud y rigor del tiempo segun otras culturas. Para nosotros el tiempo puede ser o no ser, y ahi esta la solucion, no el dilema. Lo usamos segun nos conviene y es a la medida de todas nuestras cosas. Vivimos entre el YA MERITO y el YA NIMODO. Si usted como española comprende estos conceptos, bienvenida al Paraiso donde nunca pasa nada que no queramos que suceda...si no, pues le explico a mayor detalle. Estas ideas son imposibles de comprender y aceptar para las culturas basadas en el frio y la tristeza. Nosotros somos diferentes. Pasado, presente y futuro se funden en una sola idea....AHORITA.
  • Nov 30 2011: How fascinating that you are doing this study! Since being a language student and from living in different countries, I have though about how our language reflects and creates our concepts. I have wondered if each language has the same or equivalent idioms, frequently used phrases, verbs that are used more often in conversation. For example, the 'I must, I should, I ought to....' used by many of my English friends when they probably mean ' I would like to' or I am considering' It seems to me that it creates an urgency, a rush, crushes, compresses time. Or 'more haste, less speed' (I hate that one and always get it the wrong way round!) A stitch in time saves nine. A rolling stone gathers no moss. I haven't got a book of idioms at hand. You probably have several! I would be so interested in what you find out. I havent looked at the links but I will now. I am a teacher of Creative Thinking - over the last few years we have monitored and continue to embed different question and suggestion structures into our metalanguage in the classroom. The children are using these structures now in their own speech. The results have been extraordinary.
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    Nov 30 2011: I find the question 'What happened before the Big Bang?' a bit amusing..... if time and space are just different parts of 'space-time' it would seem that absent space (the universe) then absent time. Moreover, if we mark time by how things (objects) change -- and there are no objects -- then is there no time?

    Slightly different focus: It might make an interesting experiment to start imagining our world as an old fashioned film. Each frame shows objects (people, streets, rooms, mountains) absolutely motionless but as clear as can be. And time would be imagined as an infinitely receding series of frames disappearing into the distance ahead of us, each frame infinitesimally different from the frame in front of it. The faster we go from frame to frame the faster time speeds up. --- And finally, there is no frame in view. Has time stopped? Or do we just close our eyes, realizing we were linked and part of each of the frames?
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      Nov 30 2011: Thanks for these interesting visualisations. I often think that we should not presume that our models of what is rational represent an outside world - our models (conceptual and formulated) are not "reality", they pick out regularities in experience (I'm borrowing this phrase from Fauconnier and Tuner), but that does not mean that they make the experience objective (outside of human comprehension). Since our models of time (the non-conscious ones that seem obvious and unquestionable) arose based on our experience of embodied motion in a specific environment (land on Earth), they work very well for us and here. But as we expand our experience to non-intuitive input (as we think about the world and create things like maths and physics), these models may not necessarily be what we can base judgments of what is rational thinking/logic or not. This is why it may ultimately be impossible to explain such issues (like the ones you discussed) by using analogies to what we understand immediately as making sense, deriving from normal human experiences. These analogies are used for teaching purposes and may be indispensable (although there may be exceptions), but my point here is that we don't necessarily need to be able to explain what it means that there is no change or no past to still believe these models are true in the context of other abstract models that we have created (i.e. in the context of the logic of some theories in physics or cosmogony). It can be absurd and not make immediate rational sense, but still be true and STILL have no bearing on how we should reason about in the everyday world, where these models don't fit and are not useful :) Although I sometimes find it useful to look at a wall and think of it as traveling at light speed (I have this intuition that it can always be traveling at a near-light speed, but maybe not "now", just as a potential of energy, or maybe from a different frame of reference?)
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    Nov 30 2011: What do you base this assumption on, about it being impossible to understand? Again, it's actually IMPOSSIBLE for them not to be able to understand. Perhaps I should have explained "lexicalized". When a concept is lexicalized, it is turned into a word (not necessarily glued together out of sounds - "bookcase" is also a word). This often happens when a concept is revisited and you need to be able to activate it in your conversation partner's brain in a way that takes less time (is more cognitively economical) than describing the concept in many words. So again, the fact that other ideas for Western-like numerals are not lexicalized does not mean that any member of the culture cannot come up with another concept that is similar to the concept of a Western numeral "above 5." Once they do, they have a whole collection of methods available to socialized humans to communicate the new idea. I will give you an example. With my friends, I used to play this beat-em-up game on the Sega Genesis where you got a powerup boost at level 7.5. So we called it the "boost level". In our little group, "boost level" meant "7.5". Here, now you know a new numeral - boost level.
    Another example (BTW the one above was made up) - try to recall how when you were little you needed to learn negative numbers, or square roots, or trig. Since some of these ideas are not in common use in your population, the teacher probably tried to build on some of your existing experience to allow you to conceptualize an abstract mathematical concept (e.g. I was taught fractions by an example of dividing a cake). The same thing can happen in a culture where no Western-like numerals "above 5" are lexicalized.
    Also, if the culture does not have a conventional concept of a countable entity multiplied over 5, it makes no sense to ask them to give you something to refer to a concept like that in a conversation, so asking that man "how many" about something you conceptualize as 6 does not test for anything.
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    Nov 29 2011: Fascinating question..and meaningful

    Language reflects culture..cultural values, cultural tradition, cultural customs ( and accordng to some theorists time may not actually exist)

    .I found this essay comparing various cultural understandings of time and how time is reflected in language:

    http://library.thinkquest.org/06aug/01010/timeCultures.html

    Time on my island is more about tides and seasons, about the things one can or cannot do on that tide, in that season. When I moved here 12 years ago I had lots of watches and many elegant clocks. I kept my sport watch to the nearest second by universal time (because I was a celstial navigator/blue water sailor). I had a calendar in triplicate..my desk calendar, the one my secretary kept for me and the version I carried around.Now all that is a bag somewhere awaiting repairs, betteries etc..my only clock is the time on the lower right of my laptop screen

    Time as physics addresses it, time as on watches and in appointment books does't mean so much here..it's on the lo tide, on the hi tide, slack tide, come spring, come snow,come mud season, tomorrow morning, come noon

    .So even in a given country, local custom and tradition will deteremine how and whether language refers to time.
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    Nov 29 2011: There is an awesome dissertation by Robert F. Williams, entitled "Making Meaning from a Clock: Material Artifacts and Conceptual Blending in Time-Telling Instruction". More than the actual study of instruction in time-telling, what I found fascinating is the story of how the changing material time-telling technology (clocks and their precursors) created the cultural ideas and "unconscious" conceptual models of time that we all now take for granted (e.g. the fact that hours are stable within the day and do not change duration). You can read the whole thing for free at http://www.cogsci.ucsd.edu/research/publications-dissertations/publications-dissertations-rfwilliams.php?travel=

    Fauconnier and Turner also have a fascinating paper on how some of our concepts of time are structured and were created, including the creation of our model of one abstract and universal "day" that we go through... each day ;) It's called "Rethinking Metaphor" and you can read it here www.cogsci.ucsd.edu/~faucon/RethinkingMetaphor19f06.pdf (I also summarize and refer to it a lot in my master's thesis).
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    Nov 25 2011: Hi Valeria !

    I don't know if this will help, but a linguist named Benjamin Whorf studied the language of the Hopi, a tribe of Native Americans, about 80 years ago. He claimed that their language was structured without a past, present or future tense... so that they perceived their reality as either manifest, or manifesting.

    Perhaps you are familiar with his work ?

    All the Best!
    Denis
    • Nov 26 2011: Hi, Denis !
      Thank you for the name,Benjamin Whorf.
      Here is the link for those, who is interested http://azorion.tripod.com/whorf.htm .in the unique concept of time in the Hopi language.
      It's truly amazing stuff, I'd like to ponder and I will.

      Thank you !
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        Nov 26 2011: Hi Natasha and Valeria !

        It has been years since I read this book, "Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf", but I remember my fascination with its content. I was lucky enough to find a free down-loadable pdf version of it on-line, and here is the link to where you can find it if anyone is interested :

        http://www.archive.org/details/languagethoughtr00whor

        I visited the Hopi for a day trip recently when I was in Arizona ... a beautiful, simple, and soulful people ... who still laugh at many of the white man's ways !

        Enjoy!
        D.
        • Nov 26 2011: Denis, thank you for the book !
          I am reading, avidly :)
          As I took from your comment, Hopi are still here and laughing, thanks God !
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        Nov 27 2011: Your welcome Natasha !

        Yes the Hopi are still here laughing ... and I believe that those who have suffered most deeply, are also the ones who know the highest joys ... and are able to laugh whole-heartedly at the inexplicable mystery of Being here !
        • Nov 28 2011: Hi, Denis !
          Actually it's interesting, how does the individual Hopi keep records of his memories without the grammatical category of the P.T.?
          Presumably, he is suffering now at the moment and when the moment has gone he sees himself changed through his suffering. It's something like seeing everything including himself in all-at-oneness. Really, quantum consciousness !
          I think it must be explored somewhere in the book, but I haven't read about it yet, it's interesting to contemplate before it is explained :)
          Thanks for the Hopi , there is a lot to learn from them !
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        Nov 28 2011: Hi Natasha !

        Unfortunately...I didn't get to know any of them on a more personal level, as it was only a day trip.

        I am not so sure that any of the Hopi were concerned about keeping records down through the centuries, as other cultures were. I guess its through story telling and communal rituals...that their past lives on in the present !

        From what I was told by one of the elders there, they suffered many losses through their contact with "the white man" and also through contact with the Navejo. But I did not sense any resentment in those with whom I spoke.

        Remember too... that 80 years ago when that book was written, they had not yet become all that "Americanized"

        When I stated :

        "I believe that those who have suffered most deeply, are also the ones who know the highest joys ... and are able to laugh whole-heartedly at the inexplicable mystery of Being here !"

        I was not only referring to the Hopi, but also to some other cultures and individuals that I have encountered... "people of soul", I would call them... but I do not know if that expression will translate well for you.

        Are you familiar with Blues music ?
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWLw7nozO_U

        When people learn to suffer well, you will experience an almost joyful redemptive quality in their Art.

        As to how we could characterize the conciousness of the Hopi, I would not even make such an attempt. We have this tendency to see similarities between individuals and groups, as when I speak of "people of soul", but there is no way to know with certainty if they are sharing the same "kind" of awareness or not.

        All I can say from my limited exposure to them, was that i was struck by their humility, their gentle manner of self-expression, and the Light in their eyes. It was a joy to be near them, and I felt the presence of a simple down to earth wisdom that was a pleasure to approach. (Am I projecting... who knows?)

        Have a great day!
        D
        • Nov 28 2011: Hi, Denis!
          I think, the Hopi are really conscious, awaken people, it's what T.S.Eliot meant "To be conscious is not to be in time" What comes first their language, that shaped their consciousness or their consciousness that created their language? I guess it's a spiral movement where cause becomes an effect and vice verse. Double helix. That's why you saw humility, gentleness no sense of resentment,and, sure, Light in their eyes ! I've seen the pictures !This light is the fulfilment of knowing, analogous to what Buddhists call The Spirit as Ground (Svabhavikakaya ) or what science is coming to call " cosmic consciousness ". Truly "soul people " How much are they "Americanized" ?

          Denis, you are one who knows the power of Symbol, "soul " is a symbol and speaks beyond language. In Russian it is " душа " Though "soul music" has come into Russian as it is, without translation.I like Blues music, but naturally I feel closer to Russian variant of it, in folk jargon it is something like "groan'', when a soul cries in a deep suffering. There is a definition for it " ...and this groan is called a song"
          And talking about suffering there is something about it, that drives us , humans to grow, to rise above themselves. Remember, Faust asked the Devil : " Who art thou ? " to which the Devil offers the paradoxical reply, " I am part of that spirit which always wills evil and always creates good " Is there a particular sense in which " good " is only created by the " evil ' it seeks to overcome ?
          OK, it's a bit off topic here, though honestly I think nothing is off topic in any topic. :)

          Thank you , I had a nice day ! :)
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        Nov 28 2011: Hi again !

        I really enjoy the way you pose new questions... so much to explore !

        But out of respect to the current conversation, I will cut and paste YOUR last comment, onto a new inactive conversation, that I tried to get started a few days ago.

        Here is the link... hope you don't mind !

        http://www.ted.com/conversations/7383/we_act_while_awake_as_we_do_in_8.html

        Thanks Natasha
        Denis
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        Nov 30 2011: Lovely Natasha..thank you
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    Nov 23 2011: I would say of course language can affect our concept of time. Consider the following, which was originally a Guardian (UK) article, but it has been removed from the web. Here's a summary of it:

    http://www.newstrackindia.com/newsdetails/7326

    In a nutshell, there is an Amazonian tribe with a language that can only count to five. Any number of anything over five is impossible for them to understand. Considering this drastic example, how can we say that language doesn't affect our concept of time? Or of many other things (like the assigning of blame, mentioned earlier)?

    We can also consider that the true power of conceptualization is actually with the culture forming the language in question. The language is merely a vehicle for the cultures values. But this turns into a chicken-and-egg situation.
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      Nov 29 2011: Just to clarify - the fact that you have no numerals for countable entities that correspond to the Western concepts of algebraic order does NOT mean that it is "impossible for you to understand" anything "over five"! All biologically "normal" (close to an abstract standard) people have the same cognitive potential. You could just as well say that it is impossible for any person to understand anything "over five", since young persons do not have the full command of these mathematical models. But they later learn, and so can any tribe/group/individual anywhere.

      There are conventional conceptual models in a culture, but that does not mean that unconventional thoughts are impossible, and it does not mean that they will not be fostered. There is very much that you can do to communicate and learn something new. You can describe things with many words, if there is no one "word" lexicalized for a concept. You can - usually with no conscious strategy - make noises, pause, hedge and hesitate, and use gestures, all of which to indicate that your listeners are in for a little walk in a dark forest - about to be confronted with a new concept that is difficult for you to put into words and phrases that activate conventional patterns of conceptualization. And there are many many other means of letting a new idea go out into the wild. The fact that nobody has ever said it yet does not mean that it's impossible to understand!
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        Nov 29 2011: In the context of their culture and language, yes, it is impossible to understand. Impossible to learn? No. I never meant to imply that these people are somehow biologically preordained to not understand numbers over five. But for reasons unknown to us they have not developed a counting system that assigns a word, or a meaning, to a number over five. They have obviously never needed such numbers or concepts.

        If a man from this tribe has six children, and you were to ask him, "How many children do you have?", he will reply with a confused look and the answer "I don't know." I think that qualifies as a lack of understanding of, yes, a "Western concept of algebraic order." (By the way, this exact question was posed to a man in the tribe by researchers and they received this response. Since the article has been pulled you'll have to take my word for it.)

        This is a dying Amazonian language, and is being encroached upon by the Portuguese-speaking culture. The younger people of the tribe are starting to break away and become bi-lingual in Portuguese in addition to their native language. They undoubtedly do not have trouble with Portuguese's western numbering system.
  • Nov 18 2011: Valeria !
    Thank you for the links, it's enormously interesting! I've always thought that language is directly linked to our perception of time, or even more, that this linguistic 'before - now - will be' structuring creates our human sense of the passage of time ! Though it's a vexed "chicken- egg " issue.

    I am a Russian speaker and thinking in Russian I naturally arrange time arrow from left to right horizontally. Any attempt to arrange it differently :
    from right to left or vertically creates an odd feeling of confusion, as if I've eaten something I can't digest , really it's almost a physical discomfort !
    But , when I think English I can arrange time from left to right horizontally or vertically in this way :
    Tomorrow
    Today
    Yesterday.
    And feel comfortable with both arrangements ! Why?!

    In Russian we say: New Year is approaching/ coming . We can also say : We are approaching to... , but still it's far less common and sounds odd.
    But when a person is involved, like : His/her Birthday/ graduation is approaching, only one way is possible, as if a person is standing still and an event is moving towards him. Though, not defining a person we can say: A Birthday is approaching ! As if speaking to the air, not defining to whom actually it is approaching.
    Actually, the most usual way is: I have a Birthday soon. Soon you have your Birthday. Soon New Year. /without the verb "to be"/ In both variants the only indicator of time moving is " soon", as for the subject, it is standing still.
    And, speaking in general, in Russian we don't fix the moment that much, in the verbal construct " I am happy, sad, busy.... " the verb "to be" is missing, it gives the impression of a transitable state, in English it sounds more fixed.

    So, to conclude I may say that we, Russian speakers are more relaxed and passive, we don't move in Time, Time is passing through us.

    (continued below) Sorry, it went above :)
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      Nov 29 2011: There's always individual variation - I'm a native speaker of Polish, but my "model" of the week goes from right to left :)
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        Nov 30 2011: could you say more about that..your model of the week goes from right to left
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          Nov 30 2011: When I think about what I'd do in the week, and sometimes when I gesture (I "talk" with my body a lot), I have a spatial model of the week that goes from right to left that looks more or less like this (so there is also some downward/upward movement) http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/717/weekn.jpg

          I probably wouldn't have noticed had I not gotten interested in cognitive science (and conceptual models of time in particular). I'm pretty kinaesthetic (in my thinking as well) and I think that this model probably means that I have pseudosynesthesia (in the sense that it's genuine but not perceived as a sensory experience - I just think in terms of shapes about a lot of things)
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        Nov 30 2011: Krystian,

        Thanks!!! So intriguing.

        I see Monday is the high point..in energy?

        So, you read that chart right to left? ( all charts right to left???)

        That is the direction of many ancient writings ( Hebrew, aramaic) and also the direction of the rotation of the earth ( counterclockwise)..have to look again at the Lascaux paintings and writing on rocks to see if that is counterclockwise as well...right to left. moving in a circle above the head..head as north.(12 noon)

        Pehaps you are tapping in to some ancient knowing we all have deep inside but can't access.

        Natural "time" for us on earth derives from the earths counterclockwise rotation on its access..one rotation = 1 sunrise one set=24hrs (360 degress/24)-; 1 rotation =4 tides 2 high 2 low; 28 rotations a complete cycle of the moon (new moon to new moon); 3moons from the darkest day a day of equal light and dark; and a time of planting and migrations; 3 moons from equal light of the time of planting to day of most sun; 3 moons to a day of equal light and dark and a time of harvest and migrations; 3 more moons to the day of darkness.

        Your graph goes from Monday (the summer solstice..the day of longest light) to the winter of Friday ( the shortest darkest day) to the spring and time of planting (equal day and light) of Sunday.

        I mentor for Headstart on the island (3 and 4 year old pre-schoolers) they seem to come packaged with that primal orientation to time they can "feel" ten seconds more readily than they can connect with the hand of aclock moving 10 units or moving from one place to the next. They seem to struggle with the whole idea of left to write letter formation and writing.right t oleft feels more natural ( they will always make the first letter far to the right edge of the paper and naturally want to make the second letter to the left. In a circle dance like ring around the osie they wnat to move counter clockwise..clockwise seems awkard.

        Maybe one day we'll all get to where you are.
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          Nov 30 2011: Thanks! :) What you said sounds fascinating and beautiful. However, I strongly believe that there's nothing in "left-to-right" versus "right-to-left" that allows me to tap into some ancient knowing - or if it does, there are billions of people able to tap into it. There are many sources for this, but one good example is the paper "Time (also) flies from left to right" by Julio Santiago, Juan Lupiáñez, Elvira Pérez and María Jesús Funes (www.ugr.es/~psilcom/Santiago-LeftRightTimeMetaphor-2007.pdf). If you search the paper for "Arab," you will see that right-to-left ordering is conventional in Arabic cultures - not only in writing, but in conceptualizing the order in a causation or the temporal order (what happens first). So all these people have this trait - and I only seem to have a right-to-left orientation in my model of the week and the year. If I imagine causation, it goes from left to right (or at least not consistently from right to left like when I think about the week).

          About your preschoolers - the ability to order events is a separate, and I think earlier ability from the ability to "blend" that ordering with an abstract model of time. I "tested" this with a preschooler once and she was able to perfectly judge what comes after and before (even in longer sequences), while she was oblivious to the abstract "scenarios" that we all take for granted, e.g. the week as something we go through (the week is a thing, and so once you're in it, you implicitly know that it's going to roll out in full - we're always in the same week, although I don't think anybody's asked the universe for confirmation of this "objective" fact ;)). It's interesting that they would struggle with left-to-right writing, I always though this was also arbitrary. My little cousin first learned to read books upside-down and read them with no problem.
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          Nov 30 2011: Oh sorry, I realized that I missed two of your questions:

          1. I am not sure why Monday would be at the top. Of course the drawing is a simplification, and the real thing has a lot of structure, thoughts and affect in it :) I am not sure how accurate this is, but my current guess would be that it's at the top since it requires the most conscious thinking about organization. Nothing free usually starts for me on a Monday - it's usually the day that is most marked by structures like deadlines and making plans for the week. So I need to wake up early and "light up" my mind to that. I think perhaps the closer to the weekend, the more I can unbind my ego from that sort of work and look for things that are less defined. I am always sad when I need to work on the weekend (work in a time-structured way; I am fine working on an interesting project) because I like to shed a little of the "organization". I am not motivated by abstract models of time, you see ;)

          2. I don't read charts from right to left. I read from left to right.
      • Dec 1 2011: "There's always individual variation - I'm a native speaker of Polish, but my "model" of the week goes from right to left :)"

        Krystian !
        Thank you for the response and your great contribution to the conversation !
        I've come to the conclusion that there are a lot of variations : individual, local, age based... the list can go on and on. :) It's always a problem to fix a living thing. Science in general and linguistics in particular can only create a 'map', it is not a reality, but it serves better for the purpose and I am highly interested in this 'map' , but I am fully aware that it will never be an alive thing,it will never encompass all variations.
        Thank you !
      • Dec 1 2011: Hi, Krystian !
        Yes, it's true ! The questions with the merit of having no answer are usually the most beautiful ! :)
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      Nov 30 2011: natasha..fascinating and poetic..thank you.. I especially like your last line..we don't move in time.time passes through us.

      I just posted here about time and language on my island, a remote fishing village off the coast of Maine. Even though we speak English here, our concepts of ,and references to time are more about tides, seasons, weather or dates (eg when the lobsters begin their long march from out at sea back to the coves and ledges); sunrise and sunset (boats can only be out fishing after sunrise). Time itself ( as in a specific time of day) isn't relevant..it's more about an endless rhythm of tides and seasons that regulate economic activity.
      • Dec 1 2011: Lindsay, thank you for your kind words and your sharing !
        It helps me to understand that the "scale of observation creates the phenomenon" ,so many factors within one language influence the perception of time of the speaker! That's the beauty of it, language is very, v e r y complex phenomenon ! Your description:
        " Time itself ( as in a specific time of day) isn't relevant..it's more about an endless rhythm of tides and seasons..."
        sounds not quite 'English', it's more like a painting of the Ukiyo-e school artist :) I wish I were there !
        Thank you !
  • Nov 16 2011: Dessy,

    Do you see the months of the year as a circle? I do. But I think that has a lot to do with the calendar that was in my classroom when I learned the months of the year.. I should do more research on cyclical perspective of time.

    And time definitely seems to go faster every year as I grow older, I really like how you explained it, a year being smaller every time and going faster because it´s part of a bigger circle...
  • Dec 14 2011: I want to let everyone know that I´ll probably open this question again because the forum´s gonna be closed in a few hours and unfortunately I havent been able to make any more commets..
    I´m so excted about all the information that has been shared here, and I hope I can talk to you all in another forum!

    Thank you very much again!
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    Dec 2 2011: Just a thought :

    What has always puzzled me, from childhood onwards, is the feeling that the "past" and the "future" are somehow contained in the present moment.

    In my twenties, I discovered writers such as Henri Bergson ( The Perception of Change ) and T.S. Eliot ( Burnt Norton ), to name just two, who confirmed that I was not alone in my view point. In fact, writers such as these challenge our cultural assumptions about time.

    Here is an idea that I have used to express my own views around this topic :

    Just because our language conceptually distinguishes between past / present / future, our reality may be occuring quite differently.

    For example : When does this moment end, and the next one begin ?









    If you cannot find a limit, then the idea of two separate moments is just that...an idea, nothing more !







    The present does not become the past...
    the present becomes the present,
    based on immediate sensory evidence,
    and not simply intuition.

    The present is simultaineously disappearing and appearing.

    The present is not becoming past.
    The future is not becoming present.
    The present is becoming present.

    This moment is a single event, which of course we can divide conceptually with several labels, thereby allowing us to think and communicate... but as with every map we use, it is NOT the territory... as Korzybski noted !
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      Dec 2 2011: A great thought!!! One I share.

      Also, did you see my post on the Amazon tribe whose culture for millennia has been with no notion of time..only the present moment..Also many of the great wisdom traditions are about getting to a place where we live fully present to every moment..fully present to the content and possibilities of that moment.. To live fully in the present moment, fully present to it is to live in wisdom.

      Love that you started there..as a young child,, and somehow knew to stay there..Inspiring
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        Dec 3 2011: Well thank you Lindsay...

        But believe me... I didn't always stay there !

        Its been a wild and wonderful ride...and my Center was lost and found a thousand times!

        I'm just glad I lived through it all, and the Moment remains!

        D.
    • Dec 2 2011: Denis, based on your comments, I think you might enjoy this NOVA documentary
      The Fabric of the Cosmos - The Illusion of Time
      http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/physics/fabric-of-cosmos.html#fabric-time
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        Dec 2 2011: Love that one..and this is one of my favorite ideas about time..that it may be grainy ( discrete) rather than continuous..with the implication that each moment actually seeds the next..emanates the next..that we grow what we will experience as future from the present momenthttp://faculty.washington.edu/smcohen/320/GrainySpace.html( I believe this theory and its beautiful implications have fallen into disrepute of late,alas)

        And I love this Baylor experiment to test the frequently reported sense of crisis survivors that during the crisis time slowed down..and apparently that is true..in a crisis people experience time as slowing down..this experiment proved it with a stop watch witha a flashing time that was flashing so fast peple experiencing ordinary time couldn't see it..jumpers ( in a death defying adrenalin pumping leap) could read the numbers. Also their reported experience of how long the jump was was much longer than it actually was.

        http://www.physorg.com/news116655680.html

        This experiment demonstrates that our experience of time can be measurably different under different circumstances ( perhaps accounting for why on "isand time" I often lose and gain big chunks of clock time )

        Perhaps it is the cultural ( ie shared) experience of time ( whether measured on a clock or by the number of full moons, or solstices to equinoxes, tide to tide) and what isolated peoples make of that experience ( (where does the sun go, what makes it "move across the sky", where does the constellation orion go in summer, why are some "stars" brighter than others etc.) and buld into their traditions and belief systems that shows in language with the different characteristic syntax for referring to time or time related events (si se puede).

        But ultimately as far as language goes ( and language of the masses hasn't yet caught up with whta we now know about "time") it all goes back to the earths rotation on its axis
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          Dec 3 2011: Hi again!

          I know this is a bit of a stretch, but being Canadian, I never miss the opportunity to plug our music.

          There is a line in this song that struck me when I first heard it in the Seventies ... perhaps you heard it too ?!

          As far as time goes... the singer knows what he is singin' about !

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7nYvmm0Ofmc

          All the Best !
          Denis
        • Dec 4 2011: Hi Lindsay

          I know there was an experiment by Dr. David Eagleman from U. Texas which is very similar to what you have outlined. This was in a docu by Michio Kaku. Needless to say, I think as we find out about more about our concept of time, other "mysteries" may fall into place. It may turn out to be a biological filter, designed to allows us to function in 3D space.

          As far as language goes, I would think the more direct influence on the perception of time is culture, which then influences language. The linear concept of time requires landmarks or timemarks, so to speak, where one thing happens, and then the next and then the next. Within cultures there may be various timemarks, such as the seasons - winter, summer or rainy and dry season - or holidays. Each individual has their own as well - it may be based on time to get to work in an office, which would be quite different from that of a farmer, for example. So I would think that culture influences the thought framework which influences the language. Cheers :-)
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        Dec 3 2011: Well thanks for that Julie Ann... very thoughtful!

        Unfortunately, when I visited the site yesterday the video would not load... but I will certainly keep trying.
        It sounds fascinating!

        All the Best !
        Denis
        • Dec 4 2011: Hi Denis, hope it works for you next time. There are a few other links there as well which you may find interesting. Cheers :-)

          Added: try this link instead
          pbs.org/wgbh/nova/physics/fabric-time.html
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          Dec 5 2011: Julie Ann..yes that's it that is the same expereiment I referred to ( whether the expereience f time slows down in measurable ways in a crisis). David Eagleman..had forgotten his name.
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        Dec 4 2011: Hi Julie Ann,

        Yes we are on the same page ( see my other posts here)

        No question that language emerges from culture ( including beliefs) and the way language refers to time reflects the beliefs and understanding of the culture at the root of the language.

        No question there is a universal common denominator that has to do with time that is indwelling, revealed, at least in glimpses to some, that our understanding of that is so far away it will take language a long while to catch up.

        Meanwhile, thank for the tip on David Eagleman..I'll look that up...no doubt worthwhile based on your other excellent links.

        Best Regards

        Lindsay
        • Dec 5 2011: Thanks Lindsay. I must admit I do not often read though these conversations in their entirety (my feeble excuse is lack of time - oh, the irony :-)). But, I can safely say that we are on the same page most of the time and I have great respect for your views.

          The Eagleman experiment I saw in a Discovery Channel series on Time, several months ago. I do not have a link but a quick search might provide one. All the best.
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    Dec 2 2011: Wow, intriguing idea. I've never thought about how time might be construed different cross-culturally.

    Our concept of time surely effects where we grew up & what language we speak. What aspect of time are you specifically referring to? If it's the organizing function of time then a cultural perspective (including your particular language) would affect its understanding.

    Various cultures, such as Spain have siestas where which is a great use of 'time'! The importance of napping in the afternoon would be frowned upon in England for example!

    Actually, let's bring the concept of the siesta to the UK please :)

    That's all I have to say... Gooday/night :)
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    Dec 2 2011: Hi Valeria!

    Nice question!
    I have two comments on our shared language, Spanish, first there is the difference between “Ser” and “Estar” both words mean to “be”, but the first one implies something that does not change, a sort of essence (dualism?) while the other one states the current form, that will/can, change.
    Second “hubiera” it translates to would have, this means that the language is not deterministic and believes that things could have being different in the past (specifically actions/decisions) and that results would be different now. I like to think of this as the seed of guilt :)

    Regards!

    JB
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    Dec 1 2011: Dear Valeria and all amazingly vibrant commenters here,


    This is a thought provoking article about Dr. Everett's long term work with the obsure and unique Praha people of the amazon who have a very simple "soken" language of sounds and a way of relating to time that i sonly about the present moment..there ais no past or future in their culture..only the present moment so the idea of tim or the passage of time is completely meaningless to them.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/unlocking-the-secret-sounds-of-language-life-without-time-or-numbers-477061.html

    "Many, interpreted the Pirahã's inability to learn to count as evidence for the theory that language shapes the way we think, that we are capable of creating thoughts only for which we already have words" (above link)

    "“ what makes Professor Everett's theories so particularly stunning to the linguistic world is that they fundamentally contradict the theories that have dominated the sphere since the mid-20th century. The Pirahã language, Professor Everett claims, is the final nail in the coffin of Noam Chomsky's linguistic legacy, whose hugely influential theory of universal grammar dictates that the human mind has an innate capacity for language and that all languages share certain basic rules which enable children to understand the meaning of complicated syntax" (above link)

    "“"Hypotheses such as universal grammar are inadequate to account for the Pirahã facts because they assume that language evolution has ceased to be shaped by the social life of the species." The Pirahã's grammar, he argues, comes from their culture, not from any pre-existing mental template.” (above link)

    Interesting to note the possibility that thhere rae no time related evnts or seasonal changes that would cause any cultural reference to time.

    Also, the possibility that the Piraha may communicate in ways that are more subtle and less confining than words and spoken language.
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    Nov 29 2011: Well in French, the same word is used for "weather" and "time" : TEMPS.
    So watching the sky gives you the time as well as the weather forecast.
  • Nov 28 2011: I don't have the exact link of the one that I read, but you can look for it on google or wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_distortion

    There's a lot of information about that topic on wikipedia, I also have a link of a site were you can do a test to see how you do on self defeating behaviors, which is related. I could send it to you if you would like.
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    Nov 28 2011: I wrote a master's thesis on conventional concepts of time and their extensions in science fiction. The "conventional" part is all about what you probably mean by "native language affecting our conception of time" - although of course technically the language itself does not affect anything. What affects your concept of time is the meanings that the language makes your mind unconsciously construct. Link: http://timetravel.net46.net/Aparta_Models_of_Time.pdf A short presentation based on the thesis http://timetravel.net46.net/aparta_cog_sem_time_trav.ppt

    The short answer is - our concepts of time are based on our concepts of embodied motion in space. This is universal across human cultures. This is the conceptual structure that organizes our thinking about and experience of what the English word "time" refers to (there's also a neurologically based experience of duration). There's always a path and an actor moving on the path. If you imagine yourself in a train looking outside, the inside seems immobile, so it often seems that you're seeing land moving past you (behind) - that's one way of seeing time (encoded in language, e.g. "2 years went by/past/passed"). But from a bird's-eye view, the train is moving through a stationary land - the other way ("I need to get through this week"). These models are universal, but they may be "implemented" in a different way in some cultures, e.g. we conceptualize "past" in the back, while Aymara people conceptualize it in the front (you can see it in gesture, language etc).

    Time can also be conceptualized as a substance (running out of time).

    This motion-based conceptual model compresses and organizes our experiences of "concrete" events from episodic memory, but also "blends" them with abstract cultural models (e.g. "day", "November 2nd"), so your embodied situated experience becomes an embodied experience of a universal abstract temporal event (e.g. we feel we all experienced "last Friday").

    I will answer questions :)
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    Nov 27 2011: The idea of time is interchangeable depending on the dimension of (in relation) to string theory and spacetime. We live life in the third dimension; our perspective exist within a perceived timeline. Time in a sense is the forth dimension. If we were to look at someone in a time perspective, we would see their future and past in a line of some sort; everything they will and were.

    I consider and believe, our evolution on this planet made us bound to our gravity. Our planet has a pull similar to a star, it is not as powerful but it keeps us on the ground. Another planet, different factors of time. However it is not just other planets where "different worlds" seem to exist. Imagine living with 6 hours of light a day then traveling where there is 12. Your entire biology would be affected. Your interpretation of the world ultimately.

    Sun Gods are the original Gods for a reason.

    I suggest reading about the theory of spacetime and the "philosophy of physics" related to the ideas/topics. "How will we get pregnant in space" "Can we survive with no gravity for extended amounts of time - through childbirths?" are actually real disputes in space explorations sciences/cultures.

    Language.... is tricky to directly think about, because it is a life through conformity that we accept these words as bond. These/this word)s) DOes mean this, even if you call it THAT, to me and us it MEANS THIS. Although the word is already accepted and agreed on "this/that" the competition to which idea of word(s). Is something that happens when cultures collide, authorities of experts are put in charge of standard languages, subculture clashes... It's a fuzzy issue.

    Language shouldn't be as complex as to think what time actually is, but how efficient time could be used as a tool to measure space, reality and existence.
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    Nov 18 2011: Valeria Hi Im not sure our language has so much to do with this as our culture does. Now ofcourse we might say that our language is our culture. Or we might say our culture created our language. I think the latter is true. I belive our cultures have been derived from the foods we eat.and the foods our ancestors ate. This gave rise to the words we would use for the foods themselves and the importance they held in the community. Celebrations of harvest ,births deaths, wedding ,baptisms . Time and the concept of time would have been shaped around these events. and therefore whether it was then, now or later. and the words we used to describe thse events. So I think the language influence on time comes from how important we viewed it in relation to our culture. »Not sure this makes any sense but oh well
  • Nov 18 2011: Valeria, if I can help you with your research, I'll be delighted, feel free to ask me questions about Russian and Russians.
    If anything relevant to the topic, occurs to me, I'll be here on the page.

    Good luck with your research !
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    Nov 16 2011: I have never thought of how language shapes our perception of time. But I have looked at how different cultures relationship to time is different. And I assume that their language reflects that difference.

    For instance in a culture that is dominated by the idea of reincarnation time is different to one which is dominate by the idea that this is our only chance. For instance, in Japan, the idea of performing the ultimate act of responsibility - Seppuku - is not as dramatic because they will be coming back. Where as in a culture where in this is our only chance ..... it is horrific. The same applies to our station in life. When a person believes that they will reincarnate, they are not in such a rush to have a materialistically better life, because they will. But when your chance to experience ends this time ..... there is more pressure.

    Anyway, I will ask my hubby - he is Japanese! I am looking forward to the conversation!
    • Nov 27 2011: That is so true! Culture can affect the conception of time in one´s life, but how is it reflected on the language?..
      Maybe your husband can come with an example for how he or his family express terms related to time differently because of their culture, and how it´s s hard for him to make a translation because it´s a very different concept.

      Thanks for your interest Terra!
  • Comment deleted

  • Nov 16 2011: One thing that I find interesting is that sometimes we use time absolutes: The customer is "always" right, the bread "always" falls with the buttered side down, etc. We say "always" but in reality and what we mean is "usually" (at least for the buttered bread), but by expressing it as an absolute we might perceive it differently. I was reading an article about cognitive distortions where just by changing expressions like "I'm always stressed at work" by "I'm usually stressed at work" makes a difference in the perception of the amout of stress. It would be interesting to know if there's a language out there where things have to be expressed literally and how people perceive those things because of their language.
    • Nov 27 2011: Hello Jorge! Do you remeber where you read that article?
      I´ll check out cognitive distortions anyway, thank you very much!
  • Nov 16 2011: Maybe somewhat loosely related to your question, but

    one interesting aspect of the relationship between language and time is covered in Malcolm Gladwell's book
    'Outliers', specifically in the chapter titled 'Rice Paddies and Math Tests'

    Another interesting view on time perception is in 'Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything' by James Gleick.

    Both books contain references that can take you further.
  • Nov 16 2011: Anne,

    It´s great that you talk about seasons because I hadn´t thought of that and it´s a fundamental topic in time perception. I had considered cultural and linguistic aspects, but not climatic or geographical (I guess they already influence cultures..) but I should definitely take them into account on this research, thanks!
  • Nov 16 2011: *On my first question/comment: I meant "different conceptions", not "difference conception of time in different languages"
  • Nov 16 2011: I read in Lera Boroditsky´s articles that language helps build our conception of time using metaphors of space: move a date forward or backward, events being short or long, future being in front of us and past being behind (in Aymara is the other way around), etc. Apart from time being cyclical, horizontal or vertical or going from east to west she considers other things like if we move in time or if time moves and we stay still...

    *I would like to know if there is someone else out there doing research on this...

    I would also like to find research on how these mental images affect the grammar of the languages. For example: events being a process or a state depending on our mental image which relies on our native language.

    What made me think of this was the example given here: - "Introducció a la Linguística Cognitiva", María Josep Cuenca, Joseph Hilferty -

    "aterrizaje/ aterrizar" in Spanish. The semantic difference between these two words (one is a verb and the other one is a noun) lies on wether the action is conceived as a step sequence or a “block”.
    It´s a very subtle difference in the scene we picture in our minds, even though they express the same event.

    So basically, what I´m looking for are these subtle differences in the scenes we create in our minds, which are influenced by our native language and culture and that are reflected on the grammar of each language.
  • Nov 16 2011: Zahara,

    Thanks for your interest, if you want to get more information on how language affects abstract concepts, in this case time, i really suggest you look at Lera Boroditsky´ s research.

    You can find her papers on her website (linked before) or her talks here:

    http://fora.tv/2010/10/26/Lera_Boroditsky_How_Language_Shapes_Thought#fullprogram