Pointing, swaying, and walking towards tomorrow : the link between spatial metaphor and body movements in Mandarin and English (2016)
AuthorsSun, Keyishow all
English and Mandarin use different linguistic metaphors to encode time. English uses the sagittal dimension (with the future as front as in looking forward), whereas Mandarin tends to use both the vertical (with future as down: `lower week' means next week and the sagittal dimension (with future as back: `back day' means the day after tomorrow). Existing studies have shown that English speakers conceptualize time both sagittally and transversally, whereas Mandarin speakers conceive time both sagittally and vertically. It has been suggested that the different temporal directions on the sagittal dimension between the two languages are likely to be caused by the different emphases of temporal models: Moving Ego model vs. Moving Time model. The future is associated with front in the Moving Ego model; whereas the future is associated with back in the Moving Time model. While a large amount of literature has focused on differences across the two languages in terms of using different dimensions, very little has looked at differences that exist within dimensions. This paper examines the explicit and implicit associations between time and direction held by speakers of these languages. I tested how language and overtly embedded spatial information (spatio-temporal metaphor) can affect people's perception of time across three groups of speakers: English and Mandarin monolinguals, and Mandarin-English bilinguals. By using quantitative data that were collected from three experiments: 1. testing how people point directions, 2. testing body sway directions and 3. testing walking speeds, we found that: Experiment 1 (a pointing task) showed that English monolinguals associated the future with front and up; the overt encoding of metaphor has a significant effect in Mandarin (the future as front and up unless the overt cue `back' and `lower' appears) but not in English; and bilinguals showed intermediate tendencies, which were significantly different from English and Mandarin monolinguals, suggesting that the knowledge of one language could affect how the bilinguals process temporal information in the other language. The association between up and the future from all the groups is new and unexpected, which needs to be further tested in future studies. Experiment 2 (a body-sway experiment) showed that the differences between swaying forward and swaying backward were mostly consistent with temporal directions in both English and Mandarin during thinking (replicating results for English from Miles, Nind, & Macrae, 2010), talking and listening. English speakers swayed more forward for the future than for the past when thinking and talking about personal lives, which was consistent with the Moving Ego model. However, they swayed more backward for the future (later) than for the past (earlier) when listening to stories, which was inconsistent with the Moving Ego model. Bilinguals in the Mandarin condition swayed more forward for the past than for the future when thinking and talking about personal lives and listening to stories, which was consistent with the dominant temporal direction in Mandarin (the Moving Time model). However, when in the English condition, they swayed more forward for the future than for the past during listening, which was consistent with the Moving Ego model, and they swayed more backward for the future than for the past during listening and talking, suggesting a persistence of impact from their native language. Moreover, overt spatial information in Mandarin such as front and back in temporal phrases had immediate effects on bilinguals' body sway directions during perception: they swayed more forward when they heard front, and more back when they heard back. Part of the results (e.g., English monolinguals) from the story listening part are inconsistent with existing studies and theories. Given that the stories were not designed as minimal pairs, these results from the listening part should be treated as preliminary results and should be interpreted with caution. Experiment 3 (a walking experiment) showed that temporal information only affected English monolinguals walking speeds, and their walking speeds when listening to stories were inconsistent with the Moving Ego model. However, bilinguals walked faster when listening to English stimuli than when listening to Mandarin stimuli. Given the fact that the English stimuli had more stressed words than the Mandarin stimuli, it was speculated that the rhythm of auditory stimuli might have resulted in the different speeds between English and Mandarin. Nevertheless, these results were also collected from the stories that were used in the body sway experiment, and they also should be treated as preliminary results and should be interpreted with caution. The current study tested cross-linguistic influences on the perception of temporal information from an embodied point of view. It found that both spatial information that is embedded in temporal information and the language that is used to express the information could affect how people conceive time. The processing of temporal information in different languages, including thinking and talking about one's life in the past and in the future, were found to be accompanied by body sway to different directions consistent with the direction of time in the corresponding language. These results replicated existing work (e.g., Miles, Nind, & Macrae, 2010) and further explored body sway patterns during metaphorical thinking.