Can language shape our perception of time?
The answer seems to be “yes”…
A Stanford researcher, Lera Boroditsky, in a lectio magistralis during the “Festival delle Scienze” in Rome, explains that English speakers tend to see time on a horizontal plane, from “left” (past) to “right” (future), the same way they write. But an Arab speaker, as he writes from “right” to “left”, has the opposite perception on time: past is on the right, while future is on the left. For example, an English speaker would arrange (in a chronological order) the photos of an intact egg and a broken egg in this way:
Well, Mandarin Chinese associates “up” with the past and “down” with the future! And research shows Mandarin speakers often arrange photos in a vertical plane with the earliest at the top.
But Lera also spent time in a remote aboriginal village in Australia, where she discovered that Pompuraawan (the tribe of the village) do not have terms for spatial relationships such as “left” or “in front of.” Instead they use directions as descriptors, such as “my south arm.” They think of time the same way: when asked to arrange four pictures showing a person’s life, Pompuraawans laid the photos in a line from east to west.
People’s way of thinking is important, too: for example, we also arrange time putting the past behind us and the future ahead of us, but there are people who think that it’s impossible for us to see our future, while the past is something that we have already seen. Therefore, they put the past ahead of them, while the future behind them – because they can’t see it!
That’s funny, isn’t it? 🙂