The Thaayorre think of time like they talk of space

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Around the world, it is common to both talk and think about time in terms of space. But does our conceptualization of time simply reflect the space/time metaphors of the language we speak? Evidence from the Australian language Kuuk Thaayorre suggests not. Kuuk Thaayorre speakers do not employ active spatial metaphors in describing time. But this is not to say that spatial language is irrelevant to temporal construals: non-linguistic representations of time are shown here to covary with the linguistic system of describing space. This article contrasts two populations of ethnic Thaayorre from Pormpuraaw – one comprising Kuuk Thaayorre/English bilinguals and the other English-monolinguals – in order to distinguish the effects of language from environmental and other factors. Despite their common physical, social, and cultural context, the two groups differ in their representations of time in ways that are congruent with the language of space in Kuuk Thaayorre and English, respectively. Kuuk Thaayorre/English bilinguals represent time along an absolute east-to-west axis, in alignment with the high frequency of absolute frame of reference terms in Kuuk Thaayorre spatial description. The English-monolinguals, in contrast, represent time from left-to-right, aligning with the dominant relative frame of reference in English spatial description. This occurs in the absence of any east-to-west metaphors in Kuuk Thaayorre, or left-to-right metaphors in English. Thus the way these two groups think about time appears to reflect the language of space and not the language of time.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1 - 8
Number of pages8
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue number300
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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