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PostPosted: Thu Apr 28, 2011 12:11 pm 
Smeric
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According to Guy Deutscher, "there is no known language where spatial terms are not also used to describe temporal relations." I briefly discussed this in another threat which has now been pruned but I wanted to have a more thorough discussion of spatial and temporal metaphors now and see how you guys treat them in your conlangs.

Past is Behind (PiB)
The vast majority of languages, as far as I've seen, treat the past as though it is behind us and the future as though it's in front of us. The implications are clear, we move forward through time (as though travelling through it as we travel through space), or time itself is what moves forward (with us swept along in it past all the events). Just as we pass things while walking and leave them behind us, we pass events through time and leave them in our past. We can also confront the events of the future face on, having all the options right there in front of us to choose from.

English clearly fits this description, to talk about the past we can look back, or go back in time. Things resembling a previous era are retro. If you have a past you'd rather forget you can say that's all behind me now. If my country is ten years behind yours in terms of technological advances, it means that it is essentially equivalent to a past state of your country. A government that prepares for the future is forward-thinking.

To give a natlang example, Auslan (Australian Sign Language), which I'm learning, uses a timeline representing the future as being to the front and the past as being to the back. This fits in with, as far as I know, the conceptual metaphors of all Western languages and cultures and there is nothing about signed communication that should make their representation of time any different to those of spoken languages (although you can replace spatial metaphors with actual space of course).

Past is in front (PiiF)
A few languages, such as Aymara, Ka'apor Sign Language and allegedly Japanese Sign Language, although I can't verify that, instead treat the past as being in front of us and the future as behind us. If you're from a PiB culture, as I expect most of you to be, the first time you hear of this, it may seem kind of counter-intuitive, but there is a certain logic in it. Just as we do not know for certain what is behind us, we do not know for certain what the future holds for us. The past, we can remember, and what is before us, we can see. Everything else is unknown, and time is washing us backward into the unknown. As events occur, they come into view and can be clearly seen before eventually fading into the distance.

English, as usual, is not entirely consistent - the majority of spatial metaphores in English show that our culture is PiB. Even the way we gesture follows this. The preposition before, however, seems a little out of place. If X stands before Y,X is in front of Y, but if event X happens before event Y, event X belongs in event Y's past. Perhaps, though, I'm thinking about this the wrong way and it really isn't an inconsistency if it ties in with the next part of this ... although now I'm too tired to reason this through fully.

Does "in front of" mean "this side of" or "beyond" for objects that don't have a natural front.
Let's say, I'm standing to the north of a tree. The fact that it's a tree and not a house is important as houses have natural fronts and backs and trees (unless they're bizarrely anthropomorphic and have an obvious cleft bottom or something) don't. Imagine, I'm facing south and looking at the tree. Somebody asks where the ball is and I say it's in front of the tree. In English, this means it's a little to the north of the tree, ie. THIS SIDE OF the tree. If it's behind the tree, this means that it's a little to the south, on the far side of the tree from me, BEYOND the tree. This seems to imply that the front of the tree is the north side and the back of the tree is the back side. This has just given me an almost spooky realisation: the tree is facing me. :? In fact, everything is facing us all the time. It's a rather confrontational world.

Now, I remember reading (I don't remember where) that some languages (I don't remember which) treat this the other way. Instead of the tree somehow facing me, the "front" is simply a direction and conceptually means "south" while I'm facing south and north while I'm facing north. In front of me, when I'm facing south means to the south of me and in front of the tree likewise means to the south of the tree. It makes sense, I suppose, because when I'm facing south, moving south, of course, entails moving forwards but moving north while facing south is moving backwards - ergo, right now, southwards is forwards and northwards is backwards. This means everything faces in the same direction as us, or rather, things without fronts don't face in any direction at all, but front and back simply become deictic directions like left and right.

(Of course the existence of prepositions and phrases such as "beyond", and "on the far side of" or "this side of" and "cis" (is that Latin?) also complicates things, but there seems to be some conceptual consistency within languages when talking about time and space.)

Auslan, in this case, differs from English, as I would expect all signed languages to do. Signed languages can represent spatial relations as identical spatial relations (although of course scaled down ... or up!) in a way spoken languages cannot. In front of me is in the same direction (south) from me as behind the tree is and that's how it's represented in Auslan (locating the tree in signing space and then moving a hand forward from the there). The only exceptions would be fixed lexemes such as "BACKGROUND" (video here: http://www.auslan.org.au/dictionary/words/background-2.html) which, if used to describe the backdrop of a theatre set, will actually conceptually represent something in the opposite direction of the focal point to the direction of the real backdrop from the stage ...

I apologise if I've said anything strange or long-winded or I'm not making any sense as I'm very tired. I fully expect to have made some errors in this (eg. typing "in front of" when I mean "behind") but I'd like to hear more about this from everyone here and see if anyone's got any novel takes on this in their conlangs. If you know of anything unusual in natlangs, please share it. Is your culture PiB, moving forwards, or PiiF, moving backwards through time? Or a blend? Do objects in the world face your con-people or face in the same direction as them. Would you expect this to have any effect on world-view and philosophy within your culture? (Choosing to travel forwards through time and facing the future vs helplessly swept along and facing the past? Confronted with a world in which everything presents its front to you or in which there is one global (but shifting) front?) Maybe someone has a temporal adposition essentially meaning "this side of" an event, translated into English as "after" with a specified event in the past and "before" with an event in the future. Hopefully it's at least food for thought. I know when I was a noobie conlanger, I never would have thought of this and I would almost certainly have simply used the same spatial and temporal metaphors as those in English.

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 28, 2011 2:34 pm 
Lebom
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The tricky bit is when the speaker and listener don't agree on whether the object has a front or not.

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 28, 2011 3:40 pm 
Sanno
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Imralu wrote:
According to Guy Deutscher, "there is no known language where spatial terms are not also used to describe temporal relations." I briefly discussed this in another threat which has now been pruned but I wanted to have a more thorough discussion of spatial and temporal metaphors now and see how you guys treat them in your conlangs.

Here's an interesting paper that discusses lots of examples from natlangs: “Spatial Time in the West and the East” (PDF) by Günter Radden.

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 28, 2011 6:31 pm 
Avisaru
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Something I've thought about!

In South Eresian, I stole it directly from Aymara. I'll probably give examples of this in my derivational morphology post if I ever get around to writing it.

I've been plotting something new for Cwindoià, though; I'm giving it a Past-is-Above spatiotemporal metaphor. This is based on a concept of falling through time, so the future is below you. I might throw in something about hitting the ground being dying, for kicks.

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