Do people think about time the way they talk about it? This chapter examines
dissociations between temporal language and temporal thinking in speakers of
English and of Darija, a dialect of Moroccan Arabic. In both languages, conventional
metaphors suggest that the future is ahead of the speaker and the past
is behind. Yet, English speakers typically conceptualize the future as rightward
and the past as leftward – a spatial mapping that is not conventionalized in any
known spoken language. Darija speakers typically conceptualize the past as
ahead and the future a behind them – a spatial mapping that directly contradicts
their verbal metaphors. Darija speakers’ “backward” mapping of time does not
appear to arise from any feature of their language, or from their physical experience
with the natural world, but rather from their cultural bias to focus on the
past (i.e., to value their ancestry and practice ancient traditions). Analyses of
verbal space-time metaphors reveal that humans’ temporal thinking depends,
in part, on spatial mappings. Yet, essential features of these mappings, including
their spatial orientation and direction, may be absent from language and
can only be discovered using extra-linguistic methods. Beyond the influences of
language and of physical experience, cultural values and non-linguistic cultural
practices can play important roles in shaping our mental representations of
time. As a result, at any moment people may be thinking about time differently
from the way they are talking about it, using different spatial schemas.
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