The immediate and chronic influence of spatio-temporal metaphors on the mental representations of time in English, Mandarin, and Mandarin-English speakers

Vicky Tzuyin Lai, Lera Boroditsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations

Abstract

In this paper we examine whether experience with spatial metaphors for time has an influence on people's representation of time. In particular we ask whether spatio-temporal metaphors can have both chronic and immediate effects on temporal thinking. In Study 1, we examine the prevalence of ego-moving representations for time in Mandarin speakers, English speakers, and Mandarin-English (ME) bilinguals. As predicted by observations in linguistic analyses, we find that Mandarin speakers are less likely to take an ego-moving perspective than are English speakers. Further, we find that ME bilinguals tested in English are less likely to take an ego-moving perspective than are English monolinguals (an effect of L1 on meaning-making in L2), and also that ME bilinguals tested in Mandarin are more likely to take an ego-moving perspective than are Mandarin monolinguals (an effect of L2 on meaning-making in L1). These findings demonstrate that habits of metaphor use in one language can influence temporal reasoning in another language, suggesting the metaphors can have a chronic effect on patterns in thought. In Study 2 we test Mandarin speakers using either horizontal or vertical metaphors in the immediate context of the task. We find that Mandarin speakers are more likely to construct front-back representations of time when understanding front-back metaphors, and more likely to construct up-down representations of time when understanding up-down metaphors. These findings demonstrate that spatio-temporal metaphors can also have an immediate influence on temporal reasoning. Taken together, these findings demonstrate that the metaphors we use to talk about time have both immediate and long-term consequences for how we conceptualize and reason about this fundamental domain of experience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number142
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Volume4
Issue numberAPR
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Bilingualism
  • Mandarin
  • Metaphor
  • Space
  • Time

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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