TED Conversations

Valeria Gonzalez

This conversation is closed. Start a new conversation
or join one »


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

I've been reading articles from Lera Boroditsky

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.


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • 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 :
    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 :)
    • thumb
      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 :)
      • thumb
        Nov 30 2011: could you say more about that..your model of the week goes from right to left
        • thumb
          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)
      • thumb
        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.
        • thumb
          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.
        • thumb
          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 ! :)
    • thumb
      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 !

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.