Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

It’s about Time

It’s about Time

Margaret Gale

The debate over the validity of linguistic determinism (whether the language that we speak dictates our behavior and actions) and its softer version, linguistic relativity (if differences in language cause differences in thought processing) has been raging among the anthropology, linguistic, and even the cognitive science communities for decades. This paper investigates the realm of metaphor and its connection to linguistic determinism and linguistic relativity. Using the American linguistic corpus, COCA (Corpus of Contemporary American English), and a free listing activity that involved the author’s colleagues at a public secondary school, American English time metaphors were collected and analyzed. Several prominent metaphors were revealed, such as TIME IS MONEY, TIME IS A COMMODITY, and TIME IS A MOVING OBJECT. These metaphors were then compared to the way in which time is discussed in other languages, mainly Hopi, revealing that American time metaphors are unique when compared to those used in other cultures. Then recent studies that attempt to connect time metaphors to cognition about time and studies involving gestures associated with time were reviewed. These studies along with a look into social norms prominent in American society do show a connection between the way people talk about time and the way people think about time. This supports the theory of linguistic relativity. However, the studies evaluated in this paper do reveal that linguistic relativity is plastic: Just as a person can learn the phonology and syntax of another language, one can learn the metaphors and correlating habits of thought that come with a language, as well. While linguistic relativity was validated by the findings of this paper, it was shown to be malleable, and the question still lingers: Which comes first, the language that shapes our thought processes, or the thought processes that shape our language?

April 23, 2010 - Posted by | abstract

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