Jason (jcreed) wrote,

Some discussion of metaphorical relationships between space and time over at Language Log. I'm glad to see particular examples, because I've long wondered about Lakoff and Johnson's "Metaphors We Live By". I never finished reading it (nor Lakoff's "Women Fire and Dangerous Things" for that matter) and it was a long time ago that I even half-read it, but I seem to recall that he argued for the "ahead in space = future in time" was the metaphor that is used to connect time and the front-to-back axis of space. Here's a quote from http://theliterarylink.com/metaphors.html:


[Examples:] All upcoming events are listed in the paper. What's coming up this week? I'm afraid of what's up ahead of us. What's up?

Physical basis: Normally our eyes look in the direction in which we typically move (ahead, forward). As an object approaches a person (or the person approaches the object), the object appears larger. Since the ground is perceived as being fixed, the top of the object appears to be moving upward in the person's field of vision.

Mark Lieberman's examples, however, seem to show that the only thing that we can say for sure is that people can map time and space together in at least two ways, one kind of a 180-degree rotation of the other. But you can also think of time as a cycle, mapping it spatially onto a circle. The conclusion I feel myself pushed towards is that metaphorical thinking might be describable in Metaphors-We-Live-By terms for a single culture --- one culture might have kind of a prescribed list of how it most often shoehorns disparate concepts into one another --- but for human beings as a whole it's a question of can more than do: is our cognitive machine capable of constructing this kind of metaphorical connection, and also a half-dozen others between the same two concepts?

Much like in the camp of linguistic universal research, one needs to try to be careful not to think that nobody could think a certain way (respectively, speak a language of a certain sort) just because no or few people do.


Just realized two things: one, esperanto exactly inherits the latin ante/post pair, as antaŭ/post. Things that are antaŭ me in space are in front of me, and before me in time, and things that are post me in space are behind me, and after me in time. But I don't recall this ever even coming to my attention as strange when I learned it.

I suspect this is because not only is this mapping possible in crazy languages nobody speaks *cough*, but still in English, too, if you look for it. If someone stands before me, they're not behind me, right? A word that means "in the past" at the same time means "in front of". Maybe this sounds more "standst thou before me" than common modern usage, but then I'd point to the fact that someone can cut ahead of you in line, and then they are before you in line and in front of you.

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