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Valeria Gonzalez

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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 16 2011: Michael,

    Lera Boroditsky´ s research on causality and agency is so interesting! I read this in :
    http://www-psych.stanford.edu/~lera/papers/wsj.pdf
    In English there has to be an agent, but in Spanish and Japanese speakers don´ t encode or remember the agent of accidental events as well as English speakers do, and that has direct consequences on how people perceive events. I´m looking for these kind of consequences in time perception of the events (duration, for example).

    There is a very big difference between “Estaré mañana” and “Quizás venga mañana”
    I think you can make the difference in English as well, “I will be there tomorrow” and “I might me there tomorrow”, the auxiliary verb changes the meaning, right? It would be great to find how languages express these differences and/or which don´t even express them at all!

    Do you know any sources for cultural anthropology works related to this topic indigenous people in Mexico considered time to be cyclical?

    Thank you very much!
    • Nov 16 2011: Valeria
      Yes the english does contain that difference. But the subjunctive tense in English is so unused. But in the Spanish, and think about your question, using the subjunctive takes you to a different, indefinite time. It is an important distinction to me.

      One book that might be helpful is called "Mary Michael and Lucifer" it describes Roman Catholicism in a central Mexican town, but the author goes back to pre-hispanic understandings.

      Also, El Fondo de Cultura Economica has a lot of books about pre-hispanic Mexican culture. http://www.fondodeculturaeconomica.com/librerias/
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      Nov 29 2011: Can you specify what you mean by "I´m looking for these kind of consequences in time perception of the events (duration, for example)"? If you mean how not conceptualizing a distinct agent influences the conceptualization of duration, that's an interesting thought and I may be able to theorize, but I'd like you to confirm that I understood your question correctly.

      Note that as a speaker of Spanish, you already have direct and intimate experience of what it's like not to conceptualize agentivity, not with the subjunctive but with some uses of the reflexive "se". Look at the use of "se" in this headline: "Se rompió el techo del Estadio Unico" (http://www.lagaceta.com.ar/nota/461424/Deportes/Se-rompio-techo-Estadio-Unico.html). What broke it? :D This "se" construction allows you not to take that into consideration (plus as you know, it doesn't mean a reflexive relation like the English "broke itself" - as in an agent acting upon itself - it conceptualizes away from the agency). We have the same use of the reflexive in Polish, and I've read some interesting analyses of it in a cognitive linguistic approach. But you don't need them - you can "feel it" as a native speaker of Spanish (assuming you are one, of course) :)
      • Nov 30 2011: Krystian
        I love your contributions to this conversation. I can't wait to read the papers you mention above. I am not a native Spanish speaker, but I tried very hard as a "second language" person to understand the language and the culture. I am still working on it!

        Yes, the "se" construction is very important. Removing direct agency is important in situations exactly like "se rompio el techo", was it an engineer who failed to calculate correctly? Was it a poor albanil who just didn't use enough material? Or did it just happen? After a horrendous accident in Mexico once, someone asked me if they find the person responsible for the explosion. I answered them that someone would be found guilty, but no one would be responsible. Se exploto.

        Not speaking for Valeria, but yes the idea that not conceptualizing an agent, does influence the conception of time and duration is one key here. There are obviously others.
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          Nov 30 2011: Thanks, have fun reading!

          But can you specify the bit about the not conceptualizing an agent influencing the conceptualization of duration? Can you give me an example - e.g. is this something that you feel intuitively? If so, please give me an example of a situation/event and why you believe the agency was not part of the scenario - e.g. did somebody use a construction that obscures/doesn't include the agent. If this is regarding some research that made this conclusion/hypothesis - could you please direct me to it? I would like to understand this, since I find it really interesting that you state that this does influence the conceptualization of time with certainty, so I guess it's something you are sure about. Like I said, I could theorize (i.e. do some introspection and thinking and then use my background in cognitive linguistics to put that into words), but I would like to avoid delving deep into this idea as long as I don't feel that I understand your claim correctly :)

          I will throw some other ideas out there to help you make it specific. As far as the language goes (not the concepts), we can talk about tense and aspect as means of relating an event to a model of time. We can also use time adverbials etc., but I'm talking about what you can do with verbs. There are other things that we can do with verbs to communicate various meanings that do NOT put events on a "temporal landscape". For example, the subjunctive in Spanish is used to "locate" an event in the context of potential - so something can be portrayed as dubious, not first-hand knowledge, or even sth that you will into happening (i.e. in using the subjunctive as the imperative). There are many things like that in languages (e.g. evidentiality), all of which don't deal with temporality. So it is possible that you feel that the way you conceptualize agentivity does influence the way you understand an event, but maybe not in a temporal manner but in some of these other ways (like something like mood)?
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      Dec 2 2011: Many - if not all, actually - of ancient cultures perceive time as cyclic. From here a whole theory of the lives of the universe that go on indefinitely in definite cycles (see Vedas, or ancient Egypt, for instance). From remotest times we have the astrologic New Year and the mythologic one that coincides with it, but which usually was considered to reiterate cosmogony (see man's eternal return to a sacred time in Mircea Eliade).

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