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Home > Projects > Labex TransferS operations > TransferS Operation De l’espace au temps

TransferS Operation From space to time: reference frames and cultural interference

by Benjamin FAGARD - published on , updated on

TransferS Labex - From space to time: reference frames and cultural interference

This project is headed by Benjamin Fagard, in collaboration with Jordan Zlatev (Centre for Cognitive Semiotics, Lund University, Sweden).

The goal of this project is to try to disentangle the arbitrary from the universal or predetermined in language evolution, by comparing the linguistic invariants and the importance of culture in a specific type of evolution: space-time tranfers.

This domain has been widely studied, with various approaches, both typological (Haspelmath 1997) and contrastive (Boroditsky 2001; Boroditsky, Fuhrman & McCormick 2010), as well as with specific studies on more ‘exotic’ languages (Boroditsky & Gaby 2010). One of the recurrent questions on this topic is that of ’mental representation’ of time based on space (Boroditsky 2000; Matlock, Ramscar & Boroditsky 2005; Casasanto & Boroditsky 2008; Casasanto, Fotakopoulou & Boroditsky 2010; Gentner, Imai & Boroditsky 2002) and its variation from one culture to the next (Fuhrman & Boroditsky 2010).

As noted by Jackendoff (1983), time is a unidimensional ‘pseudo-space’, and we conceive of time as a line: space-time projections thus imply the compacting of three dimensions into one, or the choice of one axis only. Human beings typically use the sagittal, vertical and lateral axes, which are theoretically available for the expression of time. However, typological studies have shown that the vertical axis is rarely used (though it is present in Chinese and some Austronesian languages, cf. Ašić 2008: 25), and that the lateral axis is more or less excluded (cf. *to the left of Sunday). The most frequently used is the sagittal axis, with different types of projection (Clark 1973: 50, Boroditsky & Ramscar 2002, Lakoff & Johnson 1980: 41-5, Haspelmath 1997).

We will study these different possible metaphorical projections in ten to twenty languages of various continentes, including languages of Europe (both Indo-European and Finno-Ugric), Asia, Africa and America. Our reflection will also bear on temporal expressions apparently disconnected from space, which are particularly frequent in some languages (Sinha, Silva Sinha, Zinken & Sampaio 2011).

Project directors:

- Benjamin Fagard, Lattice (ENS & CNRS)

- Jordan Zlatev, CCS (Lund University)

External collaborators (non-exhaustive list):

- Massimo Cerruti, Università di Torino;

- Camille Colin, Université Paris IV;

- Johan Blomberg, Lunds Universitet;

- Jean-Michel Fortis, HTL (CNRS);

- Alice Vittrant, Lacito, AMU;

- Anetta Kopecka, DDL, Université Lyon II;

- Jérémy Pasquereau, University of Massachusetts;

- Naonori Nagaya, National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics.