TED Conversations

This conversation is closed.


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 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.
    • thumb
      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.
    • thumb
      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.
        • thumb
          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.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.