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Back to the future A brief analysis of the spatio-temporal metaphor in the English language

We measure time, have time, spend time. We picture our life as physically extending over a period of time; we think of a day as a succession, a juxtaposition of hours on a time line. We divide and partition time as though it had a concrete extension. In many languages there is a common set of spatial and temporal expressions. Transposing the temporal dimension on a spatial plane is a pervasive phenomenon in both our understanding and our language. Indeed, it is such a deeply rooted cognitive and linguistic practice that, most of the times, it passes almost unnoticed: the device of the spatio-temporal metaphor is constantly at work in our reasoning and speech, but often below our level of linguistic awareness. However, it is important to bear in mind that concepts such as measurement, quantity and extent (which are commonly associated to time) pertain to physical space in the first place. As further evidence will amply demonstrate, man’s tendency to rely on the use of the spatio-temporal metaphor is an observable fact across languages all over the world, and it will probably surface as a universal cross-linguistic feature. If we take it that language and thought are strictly connected, then it is reasonable to believe that there should also be a tendency to think of time as though it were a sort of spatial extension. This stated, is it possible to uncover a general cognitive process which is responsible for the inclination to conceptualise time in terms of space? If this be the case, how would this process actually take place? In other words, what drives this metaphorical transfer? The answer to this last question is then further complicated by the fact that, at a closer look, space itself appears to be structured on universal coordinates and axes which are primarily derived from the basic facts of human perception. Our ways of locating objects in space, assigning dimensions and establishing orientational reference frames seem to be ultimately grounded in man’s bodily configuration. Interestingly, these features are preserved in the temporal dimension as well, thus establishing a three-level linguistic correspondence between bodily experience and spatio-temporal orientation. Considering that the metaphorical processes at work do not seem to differ much, the question may rise as to whether there exist a universal tendency to restructure highly abstract concepts in terms of more physical and easily graspable ones. Also, from a strictly linguistic point of view, it is important to analyse the semantic relationship between spatial and temporal uses of a given expression: as will become clear, the trend of language evolution lends further support to the claim that temporal orientation is structured on spatial orientation, which in turn reflects a typically human experience of space. Finally, spatio-temporal metaphors often appear to exhibit an unconscious positive or negative connotation with respect to social values: they clearly interact (in poorly understood ways) with conventions and cultural beliefs. For instance, why should it be that up is commonly associated with good and down with bad? What is the relationship between ethics and spatio-temporal orientation? Though mainly concerned with the English language, this paper will try to investigate the functioning of the spatio-temporal metaphor both as a cognitive and as a linguistic device, analysing the general mechanism which underlies its occurrences worldwide. (Translations from Cardona (1985) and Bergson (1888)[1956] are mine).

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6 ABSTRACT We measure time, have time, spend time. We picture our life as physically extending over a period of time; we think of a day as a succession, a juxtaposition of hours on a time line. We divide and partition time as though it had a concrete extension. In many languages there is a common set of spatial and temporal expressions. Transposing the temporal dimension on a spatial plane is a pervasive phenomenon in both our understanding and our language. Indeed, it is such a deeply rooted cognitive and linguistic practice that, most of the times, it passes almost unnoticed: the device of the spatio-temporal metaphor is constantly at work in our reasoning and speech, but often below our level of linguistic awareness. However, it is important to bear in mind that concepts such as measurement, quantity and extent (which are commonly associated to time) pertain to physical space in the first place. As further evidence will amply demonstrate, man’s tendency to rely on the use of the spatio-temporal metaphor is an observable fact across languages all over the world, and it will probably surface as a universal cross-linguistic feature. If we take it that language and thought are strictly connected, then it is reasonable to believe that there should also be a tendency to think of time as though it were a sort of spatial extension. This stated, is it possible to uncover a general cognitive process which is responsible for the inclination to conceptualise time in terms of space? If this be the case, how would this process actually take place? In other words, what drives this metaphorical transfer? The answer to this last question is then further complicated by the fact that, at a closer look, space itself appears to be structured on universal coordinates and axes which are primarily derived from the basic facts of human perception. Our ways of locating objects in space, assigning dimensions and establishing orientational reference frames seem to be ultimately grounded in man’s bodily configuration. Interestingly, these features are preserved in the temporal dimension as well, thus establishing a three-level linguistic correspondence between bodily experience and spatio-temporal orientation. Considering that the metaphorical processes at work do not seem to differ much, the question may rise as to whether there exist a universal tendency to restructure highly abstract concepts in terms of more physical and easily graspable ones. Also, from a strictly linguistic point of view, it is important to analyse the semantic relationship between spatial and temporal uses of a given expression: as will become clear, the trend of language evolution lends further support to the claim

Laurea liv.I

Facoltà: Lingue e Letterature Straniere Moderne

Autore: Elena Pala Contatta »

Composta da 103 pagine.

 

Questa tesi ha raggiunto 482 click dal 19/02/2008.

Disponibile in PDF, la consultazione è esclusivamente in formato digitale.