Though the polar oppositions up-down,in-out, etc., are physical in nature, the orientational metaphors based on them vary from culture to culture. For example, in some cultures the future is in front of us, whereas in others it is in back.
How are our cultural models of time constituted, and how are they related to our models of space? In most cases, recent linguistic evidence suggests strongly that models of time are based on certain aspects of our spatial models, and that those aspects of spatial understanding are at least universally accessible cross-culturally. We argue here that gestural data provide a unique source of convergent empirical support for many of these claims, although also offering challenges to some of them.
We have good cross-cultural evidence for a range of experientially based ways of thinking for speaking about time. Often a given language manifests more than one of these patterns. The distinction between time-RP and ego-RP structures that we propose is itself a potential cognitive universal, because both kinds of structures are documented in many languages. One extremely dominant and salient pattern is the ego-RP metaphor Time Is Ego’s Motion Along a Path; its experiential basis is clearly universal, and the metaphor itself is so nearly universal that we cannot deny its cognitive accessibility to all humans. Instead of Time Is Ego’s Motion Along a Path, Aymara uses a static mapping of past and future onto the space in front of and behind ego, respectively. This mapping, although its underlying correlations are potentially accessible to any human, has distinctly less elaborate inferential mappings between source and target domains; this may account for its rarity as a primary metaphor of time. Unusual though it may be, gestural as well as linguistic data strongly and systematically attest to its cognitive reality in Aymara speakers. The study of the peculiar Aymara spatial construals of time provides an excellent opportunity to study how fundamental abstract everyday concepts such as time, although ultimately grounded in the same universal human bodily experience of the world, can get shaped in specific ways to generate cultural variability. Sadly, this rare pattern of linguistic and cognitive construal may be vanishing (at least from northern Chile), thus diminishing the rich cultural diversity of our world.
People who say that some language is unique for this or that attribute are mostly wrong. (Not always, of course. But mostly, if the claim is at all general.) And already Language Log's Asian and Pacific desk has been informed by Anthony Jukes of London's distinguished School of Oriental and African Studies:I suppose everyone will be writing in to say that 'their' language works like this too. And so will I. Makassarese and the other South Sulawesi languages also consistently refer to the past as in front of ego — minggu ri olo week PREP front = "last week", minggu ri boko = week PREP back = "next week". And while I haven't really looked into this, I get the impression that this is not that unusual in Austronesian languages. I've been told that Sasak does it the same way, for instance.So the notion that Aymara is entirely unique among languages and cultures is almost certainly false.
I suppose everyone will be writing in to say that 'their' language works like this too. And so will I. Makassarese and the other South Sulawesi languages also consistently refer to the past as in front of ego — minggu ri olo week PREP front = "last week", minggu ri boko = week PREP back = "next week". And while I haven't really looked into this, I get the impression that this is not that unusual in Austronesian languages. I've been told that Sasak does it the same way, for instance.
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