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47 Comments:
wodenokoto said 3 months ago:

> For example, in Swedish, the word for future is framtid which literally means “front time”.

It's the same in Danish, but if you have a meeting at 1pm and you want to change it to 2pm (moving it further in to the future, or further "front time", forward in time) you are moving the meeting back.

Introductions to linguistics are littered with poorly translated examples and misunderstood grammar points from languages that aren't even particularly exotic (like Japanese and Chinese). So maybe Aymara, just like Danish, have some back-looking phrases that refers to the future, but I am not convinced that people who speak Aymara, would put the Delorean in reverse, when aiming for the future.

> But Spanish and Greek speakers see it as quantity, as volume taking up space.

Author doesn't even try to explain which linguistic property causes this.

whatshisface said 3 months ago:

I have heard that in far-off America where they speak a language called English, time is seen not as a straight line but as a round circle, because of phrases like "I've got your six" which refer to a circular clock. Truly, the words used in random phrases are the clearest window into the alien mind.

said 3 months ago:
[deleted]
ummm32 said 3 months ago:

I can confirm that from point of a spanish spoken viewer here in LATAM. We have had our share of time - decades - of a military fully controlled society, so now living in democracy many expressions or even words/verbs had subtlety changed their usual mean (as it appear in the dictionary), to something else.

I.E. the verb "to order", in spanish it is used more frequently to express the action to put things in their intended configuration ("to order the kitchen"). But in our formerly military controlled LATAM societies there's an extra meaning:

"to establish and enforce/assert a NEW set of rules"

So we use "to order" as a non-official synonym of those verbs (enforce/assert) plus the notion of NEW rules:

"Something different that what we were doing till now it is going to be implemented somehow".

kgwgk said 3 months ago:

Ordino already had both meanings (arrange and command) in latin and I think it remains true in romance and germanic languages alike. I'm not sure that's really "an extra meaning" in Latin America.

nsomaru said 3 months ago:

I thought this was a way of indicating direction when you know the orientation of the person you are talking to?

Not sure if it has much to do with time per se.

mrob said 3 months ago:

I believe whatshisface sarcastically gave an absurd example to criticize the article.

odyssey7 said 3 months ago:

I get that this is a joke, but reflecting on it, it’s not wrong that we perceive days as a cycle.

zoomablemind said 3 months ago:

> phrases like "I've got your six" which refer to a circular clock

This particular phrase is borrowed from military jargon, as a reference to one's back/behind.

For example, in aviation, round clock references are used for shorthand to describe angular directions, with center-you, 9-left,12-ahead,3-right, and 6-behind.

Clarity and brevity make this analogy an excellent communication device.

Military pilots learn to watch their-"six".

At the same time, hearing pilots talk about Romeo Papa makes a side observer wonder how this could be related to Shakespear...if at all.

goto11 said 3 months ago:

In English the term "before" literally means "in front of". So if you say "the time before today" you are (according to the same logic) actually referring to the past being in front of the present.

I'm also a bit skeptical of the conclusions drawn from these turns of phases. It seems a single language can have multiple inconsistent spatial metaphors in play at the same time. So I think it is a bit overblown to say a language "wires the brain" to think of time in a particular way.

pbhjpbhj said 3 months ago:

Yes, "the time before you" in en-gb is slightly poetic but could mean either the time in history up to the point where you existed, or it could be the time in the future that is yet to come.

hrktb said 3 months ago:

Conclusions are overblown(I guess it wouldn’t get wide appeal otherwise ?), but there is a kernel of truth in that the language at least introduces you to some visions of time you might not have.

From there, not every speaker uses every aspect of any language, people pick and choose the metaphors that makes sense for them, or create and share new ones wholepiece.

It reminds me of how tv broadcast handles late night time, and exposed me as a kid to lenient dates. It actualy had a long lasting impact I think.

goto11 said 3 months ago:

Oh I absolutely agree that words and metaphors can shape the way we think about things. I'm just skeptical towards theories that couple this to languages as a whole.

southerndrift said 3 months ago:

Could it be the other way round and back-looking doesn't really mean 'looking behind you'?

Could 'back' just mean 'further away'? If you move a box further down a storage room, you also move it 'further back', don't you?

If you bring something back, you move it from where you are to where it belongs. "Back up!" means "move away!".

Your back is not just behind you but further away from your front.

alkonaut said 3 months ago:

> if you have a meeting at 1pm and you want to change it to 2pm (moving it further in to the future, or further "front time", forward in time) you are moving the meeting back.

In Sweden that is most certainly to move the meeting forward (literally): “flytta fram mötet”.

Moving it ”back” to the future makes no sense...

jddj said 3 months ago:

It could, these terms usually depend on subtle imagined points of reference.

If time is a horizontal line, and you are at 'now' and the meeting is at '1pm', if you imagine the meeting as something which is facing you, then moving it back would push it further into the future and forward would bring it closer to the present. We also usually change the verb to make the metaphor clearer, the meeting was brought forward or pushed back.

Unrelated to time, another subtle difference which I think depends on how we imagine things spatially in different languages is 'coming' Vs 'going'. In English if you're at the park and I'm leaving my home to meet you the natural phrasing is to say that I'm "coming" (with the point of reference being you/the park), but in Spanish I'm "going", with the point of reference being me/my home.

nemetroid said 3 months ago:

"Flytta fram" is actually used in both senses in Swedish, see references to Språklådan and Språket i P1 below. Both sources suggest avoiding the construct altogether, and use the more literal "tidigarelägga" and "senarelägga" instead (i.e. "place earlier" and "place later").

http://www3.sprakochfolkminnen.se/sprakladan/ShowSearch.aspx...

https://www.facebook.com/Spraketip1/posts/10158189290675512/

yorwba said 3 months ago:

I'm sceptical of the experiment claiming to show that whether Chinese-English bilinguals use the horizontal or vertical axis to order people by age is influenced by language (as cued by the ethnicity of the person in the photo).

The description makes it sound as if 上/下 [shàng/xià] (up/down) were the dominant terms to express time in Mandarin (as exemplified by 上个星期/下个星期 [shàng gè xīng qī/xià gè xīng qī] (previous week/next week)). However, there are at least two other metaphors.

One is 去/来 [qù/lái] (go/come), e.g. in 去年/来年 [qù nián/lái nián] (previous year/next year) or 过去/未来 [guò qù/wèi lái] (past/future).

The other is 前/后 [qián/hòu] (front/back) e.g. in 以前/以后 [yǐ qián/yǐ hòu] (before/after) or 前天/后天 [qián tiān/hòu tiān] (the day before yesterday/the day after tomorrow).

Now if you wanted to use one of those combinations to describe the age of two persons, you'd use 前辈/后辈 [qián bèi/hòu bèi] (elder generation/younger generation). That's not only not vertical, it also orders them by time of birth and not by age.

So I don't think you can use linguistic phenomena to explain why Chinese-English bilinguals would put a young Chinese person above an older Chinese person, if the effect is even real at all. (There were only 32 participants in the experiment.)

zoomablemind said 3 months ago:

On the topic of time-reference - An interesting cultural aspect when refering to 'tomorrow', a Western speaker means rather shortly, quite possibly next day.

Yet an Arabic speaker, when saying 'bukra', in fact may imply some indefinite point in future, quite possible not at all.

Just as being on-time or late may practically mean different allowances in different cultures.

Sure, there're other more precise expressions, perhaps being bilingual would expand one's perception of time-referencing.

jaclaz said 3 months ago:

Well, it is not Arabic only, "mañana" in Spanish means actually tomorrow, but often it is intended as "some time in the future", more like "soon" but also "not now and not so soon".

In Italian it is almost the same for "domani", with a lot of nuances depending on the context.

Only as an example, in Italian "Domani puoi sempre fare questo" which would translate literally to (and is probably perceived by a foreigner as) "Tomorrow you can always do this" actually means "In the future (indefinite, or "any time") you can still do this" (usually meaning reverting a present decision).

lajawfe said 3 months ago:

"Later" in English matches "not now and not so soon" no?

kawera said 3 months ago:

Same in Portuguese (amanhã) and French (demain).

tempguy9999 said 3 months ago:

> They arranged the former horizontally, with the young Brad Pitt to the left and the old Brad Pitt to the right. But the same people arranged the pictures of Jet Li vertically, with young Jet Li appearing at the top and old Jet Li appearing at the bottom

I thought chinese writing was traditionally done from the top downwards ie. vertically. If so, the effect quoted might well be attributable more to that.

etangent said 3 months ago:

Willing to bet that none of these experiments will replicate if conducted on a larger sample.

tempguy9999 said 3 months ago:

I've not downvoted you but I really don't see this comment adding anything to the discussion, unless you wish to clarify.

jddj said 3 months ago:

There are subtle differences everywhere which could have real framing effects or make no difference at all except to the expression itself.

In English one spends time, for example, much like one spends money. I love that as a metaphor but in Spanish you don't spend time, you pass time.

Does that reflect some transactional nature of English compared to Spanish, or nothing significant at all? Probably the latter, but I'll admit to enjoying these nuances.

Along the same line, in English one pays attention where in Spanish one lends it. Does the Spanish language bake in that exchanges should be fairly reciprocal? No idea, but fun to think about.

pbhjpbhj said 3 months ago:

Interesting.

British English uses both 'spend' and 'pass'. In particular hobbies (leisure activities) are known as passtimes.

"How do you pass your time?" is not a common expression though but the concept is available, and used sometimes.

People also say things like "what do you do with your [spare] time?".

zimpenfish said 3 months ago:

> In particular hobbies (leisure activities) are known as passtimes.

Minor nit - it's "pastime" (although it does come from "passe tyme" and "passe-temps")

pbhjpbhj said 3 months ago:

I was poorly trying to highlight the etymology, probably: "pass-times" (pastimes).

trilila said 3 months ago:

I am multilingual and i can confirm this is not accurate.

loopbit said 3 months ago:

I'm also multilingual and can confirm that at least some aspects of the languages mentioned that I know, are accurate.

For a few years I was also a language teacher and this article explains one of the things students have problems understanding.

trilila said 3 months ago:

Indeed, but it’s not because they “experience time” differently, it’s because they express time differently.

Kapura said 3 months ago:

Is it possible to know how another person experiences time? Or anything, for that matter?

tempguy9999 said 3 months ago:

By inference, I'd say yes.

I think that's what the entire article is about. Like, the whole point of it.

nickserv said 3 months ago:

Which languages do you speak, are they closely related?

It seems that the effect is heightened when the languages are in different families, or at least have different grammatical structures.

In some other articles on the subject, I've read on effects based on whether a language uses grammatical gender or not. For example children assigning voices to the Sun and Moon in English vs Spanish - in Spanish the voice given would almost always follow the grammatical gender, in English it would be randomly selected.

Not exactly mind blowing, but measurable.

Viliam1234 said 3 months ago:

I am multilingual too, and I am quite amused about all the magical superpowers monolingual people ascribe to us. Heh.

nickserv said 3 months ago:

I would say the same effect applies to programming languages too.

Learning languages with different "grammar" allows one to think about the same problem in different parallel ways. For example by being exposed to a functional language one is able to approach a particular task from a different angle even if doing OOP.

The same way people were able to reason using distance or volume when estimating time in the article.

The difficult part I suppose is figuring out which paradigm is most appropriate for the given situation.

theemathas said 3 months ago:

Interesting case: in Thai (which is my mother tongue), both the words "วันหน้า" (literally "front day") and "วันหลัง" (literally "back day" or "behind day") both mean "(in a) later (day)". (Yes, it's kinda illogical, like "flammable" vs "inflammable".)

Personally, I think of the past being on the left, and the future being on the right. (Thai is written from left to right, like English.)

notus said 3 months ago:

What is meant by "rewiring the brain"? It always seemed like a squishy term that doesn't really mean anything.

visarga said 3 months ago:

Not much because any experience is 'rewiring the brain'.

ganzuul said 3 months ago:

Guessing it means you build a parser, a topic in itself, provided that you are actually fluent and not translating on the fly.

godelski said 3 months ago:

I haven't read the paper but I did read the article.

I imagine this is a case of reporter not understanding the research. This is clearly about linguistic relativism. There's a clear difference between how languages like Mandarin and English talk about time but the difference within indoeuropean languages is much smaller. I buy into Mandarin vs English shifting how one thinks about time (this isn't a new concept) but any secondary language changing how one views time (in a significant way) I'm skeptical. English and Spanish (which were used as examples) speak about time almost the same way. And if you're going to talk about Mandarin, there are much better examples than that they use a vertical axis instead of a horizonal (which doesn't mean they use both.)

alpaca128 said 3 months ago:

But the article was written by the researchers, at least that's indicated by the first paragraph: "My new study – which I worked on with linguist Emanuel Bylund"

godelski said 3 months ago:

This threw me off too so I'm unsure. But it really sounds like much bigger leaps than what is conventionally believed.

gnull said 3 months ago:

> They arranged the former horizontally, with the young Brad Pitt to the left and the old Brad Pitt to the right. But the same people arranged the pictures of Jet Li vertically, with young Jet Li appearing at the top and old Jet Li appearing at the bottom.

It is actually surprising that researchers asked same group of people both questions. Shouldn't they had randomly separated their subjects into "Jet Li" and "Bradd Pitt" groups and asked each group only one question, so that subjects do not realize what is the purpose of the experiment?

flatfilefan said 3 months ago:

Maybe if someone grew up at least bilingual they have different concepts built into their “brains” as children. I can only attest that learning Spanish or English as a foreign language in school doesn’t change your own perception of time. So the last statement of the article is non sequitor.

awestroke said 3 months ago: