Chinese hands of time: The effects of language and culture on temporal gestures and spatio-temporal reasoning
Across languages and cultures, people use space to represent time. In this dissertation Chinese people’s conceptualisation of time is investigated, with a focus on the production and perception of gestures, mental space-time mappings, and cultural temporal values. These issues are studied cross-culturally and within the Chinese culture, including analyses of different Chinese populations.
The results show that, firstly, Chinese may have different mental space-time mappings than Spaniards and Moroccans, in line with their different cultural values towards time. Secondly, within the Chinese culture, Mandarin-English bilingual speakers gesture differently about time when speaking Mandarin Chinese than when speaking English. Thirdly, Mandarin speakers can gesture the past to their front and the extent to which they perform past-in-front/future-at-back mappings is sensitive to the wording of Mandarin space-time metaphors. Furthermore, Mandarin-Chinese Sign Language (CSL) bimodal bilinguals perform different temporal gestures than Mandarin-speaking non-signers, even when both speak in their L1 Mandarin Chinese. Finally, deaf users of CSL display a different spatio-temporal reasoning than Mandarin speakers, and there is an effect of written Mandarin proficiency on signers’ spatio-temporal reasoning. All these studies suggest that there are not only long-term effects of cultural attitudes on the spatialisation of time, but also immediate effects of the linguistic space-time metaphors that probe people’s mental representations. In conclusion, culture and language may not simply influence how we think about time, but also shape the way we moveour hands to refer to time.
This dissertation may be of interest to researchers working on gestures, bilingualism, language and cognition, and cross-linguistic/cultural differences in space-time mappings.