Volume 16, Issue 3
  • ISSN 1568-1475
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9773
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  • Time on hands

    Deliberate and spontaneous temporal gestures by speakers of Mandarin

  • Author(s): Heng Li 1
  • View Affiliations Hide Affiliations
    1 Jiangsu Normal University, Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, China, and Northumbria University, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK
  • Source: Gesture, Volume 16, Issue 3, Jan 2017, p. 396 - 415
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1075/gest.00002.li
    • Version of Record published : 01 Feb 2018


The present study investigates deliberate and spontaneous temporal gestures in Mandarin speakers. The results of our analysis show that when asked to gesture about past and future events deliberately (Study 1), Mandarin speakers tend to mimic space-time mappings in their spoken metaphors or graphic conventions for time in Chinese culture, including sagittal mappings (front/past, back/future), vertical mappings (up/past, down/future), and lateral mappings (left/past, right/future). However, in their spontaneous co-speech gestures about time (Study 2), more congruent gestures were produced on the lateral axis than on the vertical axis. This suggests that although Mandarin speakers could think about time vertically, they still showed a horizontal bias in their conceptions of time. Speakers were also more likely to gesture according to future-in-front mappings despite more past-in-front mappings found in spoken Chinese, suggesting a dissociation of temporal language and temporal thought. These results demonstrate that gesture is useful for revealing the spatial conceptualization of time.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): gesture; Mandarin; metaphor; space; time
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