Posted by: Alexandre Borovik | May 4, 2010

As time goes by

Dedre Gentner, Mutsumi Imai, and Lera Boroditsky.  As time goes by: Evidence for two systems in processing space!time metaphors. Language And Cognitive Processes 17 no.\ 5 (2002), 537–565. DOI: 10.1080/01690960 14300031 7.
Temporal language is often couched in spatial metaphors. English has been claimed to have two space!time metaphoric systems: the ego-moving metaphor, wherein the observer’s context progresses along the time-line towards the future, and the time-moving metaphor, wherein time is conceived of as a river or conveyor belt on which events are moving from the future to the past. In three experiments, we investigated the psychological status of these metaphors by asking subjects to carry out temporal inferences stated in terms of spatial metaphors. In Experiment 1, we found that subjects were slowed in their processing when the assertions shifted from one spatial metaphoric system to the other. In Experiment 2, we determined that this cost of shifting could not be attributed to local lexical factors. In Experiment 3, we again found this metaphor consistency effect in a naturalistic version of the study in which we asked commonsense time questions of passengers at an airport. The results of the three studies provide converging evidence that people use spatial metaphors in temporal reasoning. Implications for the status of metaphoric systems are discussed.

I remember the mesmerising  effect of reading Thomas Mann’s Der Zauberberg on a Trans-Siberian train slowly moving through space, time, and seasons. The novel is not mentioned in the bibliography of the paper — a great omission, in my opinion, since the novel contains some famous time/space metaphors and a discussion of phenomenology of time in general.

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