Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2016

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Linguistics

First Advisor

Bhuvana Narasimhan

Second Advisor

Laura Michaelis-Cummings

Third Advisor

Barbara Fox

Fourth Advisor

Jim Martin

Fifth Advisor

Esther Brown

Abstract

English speakers talk and think about Time in terms of physical space. The past is behind us, and the future is in front of us. In this way, we ‘map’ space onto Time. This dissertation addresses the specificity of this physical space, or its topography. Inspired by languages like Yupno (Núñez, et al., 2012) and Bamileke-Dschang (Hyman, 1980), languages that encode temporal events through physical downhill/uphill topography or through fine-grained proximal-distal grammatical forms, this dissertation revisits our understanding of English by asking the extent to which English speakers, too, construe temporal events as physically proximal or distal with relation to a deictic center.

Through seven experiments featuring two novel paradigms with physical space both behind and in front of the deictic center, this dissertation shows that English speakers construe Time through fine-grained topographical space, with tomorrow physically closer to a deictic center than next year. Since thought and language are inextricably connected, it also addresses the extent to which grammaticalized constructions, such as future forms (be going to vs. will) and epistemic modal verbs (may vs. might) encode proximal-distal temporal distinctions (Comrie, 1985; Langacker, 2008).

English speakers have multiple means of construing fine-grained past or future events, co-locating the present either with the ego (e.g., The past is behind me) or with an external locus, like a square on a calendar (Núñez and Cooperrider, 2013). Therefore, this dissertation also examines the conditions under which English speakers adopt an external deictic center or default to an internal one, essentially demonstrating the contextual flexibility of speakers’ space-time construals.

Finally, English speakers have also been shown to recruit representations of physical motion when processing temporal events (e.g., We’re approaching summer) (Boroditsky & Ramscar, 2002). Using a novel paradigm in which participants estimate physical distances behind and in front of them, this dissertation shows that English speakers recruit representations of motion when co-locating the present with the ego, but not when they co-locate the present with an external locus.

In these ways, this dissertation serves as a first map of English speakers’ space-time topography, providing a new perspective on the interaction of language and cognition when speakers cognize temporal events.

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