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Temporal Language and Temporal Thinking May Not Go Hand in Hand

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Abstract

Do people think about time the way they talk about it? This chapter examinesdissociations between temporal language and temporal thinking in speakers ofEnglish and of Darija, a dialect of Moroccan Arabic. In both languages, conventionalmetaphors suggest that the future is ahead of the speaker and the pastis behind. Yet, English speakers typically conceptualize the future as rightwardand the past as leftward – a spatial mapping that is not conventionalized in anyknown spoken language. Darija speakers typically conceptualize the past asahead and the future a behind them – a spatial mapping that directly contradictstheir verbal metaphors. Darija speakers’ “backward” mapping of time does notappear to arise from any feature of their language, or from their physical experiencewith the natural world, but rather from their cultural bias to focus on thepast (i.e., to value their ancestry and practice ancient traditions). Analyses ofverbal space-time metaphors reveal that humans’ temporal thinking depends,in part, on spatial mappings. Yet, essential features of these mappings, includingtheir spatial orientation and direction, may be absent from language andcan only be discovered using extra-linguistic methods. Beyond the influences oflanguage and of physical experience, cultural values and non-linguistic culturalpractices can play important roles in shaping our mental representations oftime. As a result, at any moment people may be thinking about time differentlyfrom the way they are talking about it, using different spatial schemas.

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