Do the languages that we speak affect how we experience the
world? This question was taken up in a linguistic survey and
two non-linguistic psychophysical experiments conducted in
native speakers of English, Indonesian, Greek, and Spanish.
All four of these languages use spatial metaphors to talk about
time, but the particular metaphoric mappings between time
and space vary across languages. A linguistic corpus study
revealed that English and Indonesian tend to map duration
onto linear distance (e.g., a long time), whereas Greek and
Spanish preferentially map duration onto quantity (e.g., much
time). Two psychophysical time estimation experiments were
conducted to determine whether this cross-linguistic
difference has implications for speakers’ temporal thinking.
Performance on the psychophysical tasks reflected the relative
frequencies of the ‘time as distance’ and ‘time as quantity’
metaphors in English, Indonesian, Greek, and Spanish. This
was true despite the fact that the tasks used entirely non-
linguistic stimuli and responses. Results suggest that: (1.)
The spatial metaphors in our native language may profoundly
influence the way we mentally represent time. (2.) Language
can shape even primitive, low-level mental processes such as
estimating brief durations – an ability we share with babies
and non-human animals.