Posted by: JohnHo | October 23, 2009

Sharing an interesting study

I found the following research that might be interesting to know.

Boroditsky (2001) did a research on Mandarin speakers and English speakers. What’s interesting is the difference in expressing time in the two languages: in English, time is expressed horizontally, for example, we can say “next year” or “last year”. Notice that English can use “next” or “last” to express the year which is one year after or behind the current year; In Mandarin, the direct translation of “next year” is xia nian which means two years after the current year and the direct translation of “last year” is hou nian which means two years behind the current month. Does Mandarin have the same semantic meaning for “last year” or “next year”? Yes, but Mandarin expresses those in terms of “up” and “down”, for example, the semantic translation of the word “last year” in Mandarin is “shang (up) nian (year)” and the semantic translation of “next year” is “xia (down) nian (year)”. Given that Mandarin and English have different conception of time, Boroditsky (2001) did a research and concluded that English speakers tend to think time horizontally, which is before or after, and in contrast, Mandarin speakers are more likely to think time in a vertical dimension, which is up and down. As the ultimate aim of this research is to prove Whorfian hypothesis that language shapes thought, Boroditsky (2001:20) finally concludes that “language can be a powerful tool for shaping abstract thought.”



Boroditsky,L. (2001) Does language shape thought? Mandarin and English speakers’ conceptions of time. Cognitive Psychology 43(1), 1-22


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