Time and Temporality in Language and Human Experience

by Barbara Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk (Volume editor) Krzysztof Kosecki (Volume editor)
©2014 Edited Collection 413 Pages
Series: Łódź Studies in Language, Volume 32


Culture and language provide two essential frameworks to deal with the concept of time. They view time as observer-determined and thus shed light on multiple and often conflicting temporalities we live in, think, and talk about. Relying on empirical methods, the book explores linguistic and psychological parameters of time perception and conceptualization. It deals, among others, with temporal aspects of language acquisition, neural mechanisms of memory and attention, as well as event structures. Further chapters focus on the understanding of time in philosophy, literature, the arts, and non-verbal communication.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • TIMELY: A Network on Timing and Time Perception
  • Introduction
  • Main Topics of TIMELY
  • Acknowledgments
  • References
  • Part 1: Time in Philosophy, Language and Discourse
  • Time and Time Experience in Language
  • Introduction
  • Time as a concept
  • Methods and materials to study time in language
  • How time is expressed in language
  • Lexical - morphological level
  • Prepositions
  • Smaller units of time: affixation
  • Grammatical level
  • Time and grammatical categories: Tense, Aspect and Aktionsart
  • Sequence of tenses
  • Polysemy of the form time in language and definitional properties of the meaning of time
  • Time and time units: Language and culture
  • Conceptualizations of time: metaphors
  • A general classification of TIME conceptualizations in language
  • Time as motion in space: Orientation
  • Metaphors: properties of time
  • Time and event structure
  • Perception and conceptualization of events
  • Events as they are in mind
  • Prototypical events
  • Asymmetric events (Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk 2008)
  • Temporal parameters and parts of speech
  • Subjective time. Metaphors again:Time extension / Time contraction
  • Conclusions
  • Grammar, metaphor and temporal dimension cross-linguistically
  • Grammatical categories and the Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis
  • References
  • Is Present Time a Precondition for the Existence of the Material and Public World?
  • Introduction
  • The everyday understanding of the NOW
  • Fundamental 1: Knowing takes place only in present time
  • Fundamental 2: The NOW is not a measurement or objectified configuration
  • Fundamental 3: The NOW is not a mere phenomenal property of consciousness
  • Fundamental 4: The NOW has no past
  • Fundamental 5: The NOW is that which gives the material universe its autonomy and non-solipsistic character
  • The second approach: The counter-intuitive understanding of the NOW
  • Conclusion
  • Postscript: Toward a definition of present time
  • References
  • Time to Talk
  • Introduction
  • Discursive Psychology
  • The Problem of Construction and Interpretation
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Complementarity of Space and Time in Motion-Framed Distance
  • Introduction
  • (A)symmetry of space and time in cognition
  • Views on the relationship between space and time in cognition
  • Linguistic representation of motion events
  • Space and time in motion-framed distance representations
  • Methodology of research
  • Representations of motion-framed distance for the manner of motion
  • Representations of motion-framed distance for the instrument of motion
  • Summary of findings
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Atemporality of Coextension Paths
  • Fictive motion
  • Cognitive linguistic models of fictive motion
  • Fictive motion as a cognitive simulation
  • Temporality of fictive motion
  • Temporality of coextension paths
  • Methodology of research
  • Atemporality of coextension paths in the BNC
  • Conceptual motivation of atemporality in coextension paths
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Temporal Parameters of Narrative Events: a Study of Unitizing a Videotaped Activity and its Verbal Coding
  • Introduction
  • Study one - online video segmentation
  • Method
  • Subjects
  • Question and goal
  • Materials
  • Procedure
  • Results and qualitative analysis
  • Conclusions
  • Study two – English and Polish verbalization of the observed video narrative
  • Method
  • Participants
  • Procedure and materials
  • Variables
  • Results and analysis
  • Discussion
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Investigating Perceptions of Lexical Obsolence
  • Introduction
  • Findings
  • Summary of the findings
  • References
  • Evidentiality and Temporal Perspective of Utterance
  • Introduction
  • Evidentiality and related categories
  • Epistemic modality and evidentiality interface
  • Evidentiality and deixis
  • Inference based evidence
  • Direct perception and perception based inference
  • Reportive evidence
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Creating the Timeline in English Narratives: the Bilingual Perspective
  • Introduction
  • Temporal structuring: An outline of the process
  • The study
  • Participants
  • Materials
  • Procedure
  • Analysis
  • Results
  • English monolinguals
  • Polish monolinguals
  • The immigrants
  • The students
  • Discussion
  • References
  • Part 2: Temporal Processing of Speech
  • Prospective Timing During Conversations
  • Time, communication, and conversation
  • Temporal dimensions of speech and response-latency
  • Prospective and retrospective timing
  • Retrospective timing
  • Prospective timing
  • The Expectancy Violation theory
  • A model of prospective timing during a conversation
  • Do humans hold naïve theories about the role of prospective timing and about the gaps between expected and perceived durations of RLs in communication via spoken language.
  • The survey
  • Results
  • Prospective timing during a spoken conversation–a preliminary empirical test of the model
  • Procedure
  • Method
  • Stimuli
  • Experimental design
  • Results
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • On Distinctive Visual and Auditory Timing Cues in Language Tasks
  • Introduction
  • Timing Auditory Cues in Language Tasks
  • Material and Procedure
  • Results
  • Data Discussion
  • Timing Visual Cues in Language Tasks
  • Materials and Experimental Set-Up
  • Results and Cross-Cultural Comparison
  • Discussion
  • Conclusions
  • Acknowledgements
  • References
  • Part 3: Time in Grammar and Language Acquisition
  • A Brief Account of a Negation Theory of the Slavonic Verbal Aspects
  • Introduction
  • A negation-based classification of occurrences of aspectual forms
  • A critique of the standard interpretation of the main Slavonic aspectual differentiation of event verbs. Preliminaries. Arguments for the alternative view
  • A formal argument for non-viability of the standard interpretation of the aspectual distinction
  • References
  • TIME in a Semantically-annotated Corpus of Canadian English
  • Introduction
  • International Corpus of English
  • The UCREL Semantic Analysis System (USAS)
  • The distribution of Time tags over all genres
  • T1-T4
  • Focus on beginning vs. ending, young vs. old, early vs. late
  • Time tags in particular genres
  • Summary of corpus results
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Time Metaphors in English – a Corpus-based Study
  • Introduction
  • Theory
  • Meaning and empiria
  • Conceptual abilities
  • Metaphors
  • Flow
  • Corpus linguistics
  • BNC Corpus
  • Metaphor
  • Metaphors and time
  • Internal construction
  • The malleability of time
  • Time in space
  • Standing in time or outside it
  • The time horizon
  • Importance
  • Collocations
  • Metaphorical collocations of time – its representations and practical analysis
  • Verb + ‘time’
  • Time is a…subject + verb + noun
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Metaphorical and Metonymic Representations of Time in Polish Sign Language
  • Introduction: signed languages
  • Metaphor and metonymy
  • Time in PJM
  • Representations of time in PJM
  • Time as space
  • Units of time
  • Hour and minute
  • 24-hour cycle and its parts
  • Calendar, week, month, and year
  • Seasons of the year
  • The rate of the flow of time
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Duration in English and in French: a Linguistic Description of the Relation Between a Process and a Time Interval
  • Introduction
  • Process representations and intervals of time
  • Processes
  • Processes and the time line
  • Intervals of time
  • Representation of the determination of durative for upon verbs.
  • Complete correspondence between the class of instants and the process representation
  • Incomplete correspondence
  • The occurrence takes place on the left bracket of the class of instants.
  • For in contrast to other interval markers
  • During: otherness inside the interval
  • In, a new identity for the class of instants
  • For, identification of the interval in opposition to external instants
  • For and some French translations
  • For / Depuis
  • For / pendant
  • For / l’espace de
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Enhancing the Acquisition of Foreign-language Tense Properties
  • Contrastiveness in pedagogical grammar
  • L1 experience
  • The stages
  • Initial exposure
  • Imprinting
  • Explication
  • Explanation
  • Interface formation
  • Competence expansion
  • Teaching the English tense/aspect system using contrastive/ interfacial instruction
  • ’Reported speech’
  • Conditionality
  • Present Simple vs. Present Progressive
  • Present Progressive with future time reference
  • Enter generative insights
  • Empirical findings
  • The research set-up
  • Reported speech and embedded questions
  • Conditional constructions
  • Results
  • Reported speech
  • Conditional constructions
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Part 4: Time and the Arts
  • Relativity of Time in Belles-lettres
  • References
  • When does an Era End? The Example of British Great War Poetry
  • References
  • Time and Drama – the Last Soliloquy in Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus
  • References
  • “Absent Presence” – Quantum Time and Quantum Consciousness in Wilson Harris’s Palace of the Peacock
  • Time in physics, physics in literature
  • Quantum fiction
  • Wilson Harris
  • Palace of the Peacock (1960)
  • References
  • Translation of Time: from Literary Work to Screen in Stanley Kubrick’s Films
  • Introduction
  • Novel and film as texts
  • Time (tense) aspect in novel and film
  • Transfer of verbal references to time
  • Adaptation as translation
  • Camera as a tool for creating cinematic meaning
  • Editing (or montage) as a tool for maintaining or disrupting the continuity of time
  • Structural aspects of constructing time in film
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Time and the Chora: ‘Transitory Strata’ and ‘in-between-ness’ within ‘Dream Films’
  • Acknowledgements
  • References
  • “In the Darkness of Future Past”. Time in David Lynch’s Films
  • Introduction
  • The narrative
  • The duration of shots
  • Time setting
  • “Between two worlds”
  • “Dick Laurent is dead”
  • The blue box
  • “On High in Blue Tomorrows”
  • The function of time modifications
  • References
  • Reihenübersicht

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Introduction: Time as a Multidimensional Concept

Barbara Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk1 and Krzysztof Kosecki, University of Łódź, Poland

There are two main visions relating to the concept of time. The first, classical one, describes time as constant, universal and possibly extramental. The more recent one, rooted in Einstein’s theories of relativity, proposes a space-time perspective and views time as strongly dependent on the observer. Looking across various scientific disciplines which ask questions about the existence and essence of time, a place and role for language studies can be identified as illuminating the role of objective and subjective time as well as shedding light on multiple temporalities we live in, think and talk about.

The research presented in this volume has been inspired by a number of projects investigating time and temporal experience in human life and language with researchers working either independently or in teams. COST Action TD0904 TIMELY, in which the University of Lodz participates, provides us with a unique opportunity to meet and learn from one another in a truely international surrounding. A parallel project from the National Science Centre in Poland, focusing on the Perception of Time as a Linguistic Category (Project No UMO- 2011/01/M/HS2/03042), makes it possible for us to deal with complex issues in the cognitive analysis of time in terms of the structure of events, identification and extraction of temporal expressions from large language corpora and several attempts at a new interpretation of time and temporal categories in linguistic and artistic creations. The projects aim to propose a more adequate, mentally mediated, theory of time and a theory of users’ time perception and time conceptualization.

Both empirical findings on linguistic temporal parameters, the neural mechanisms underlying time perception, memory, attention, and eventually conceptualization are the cognitive processes closely linked to the understanding of time. Culture and language provide two essential frameworks to deal with time. Event structures, language specificity and cultural framing of events enable time interpretation in culture and language specific ways. Metaphor and other figurative language pave the way to elucidate the complex nature of temporal experience as documented in everyday language, in the language of literature and in the semiotic codes of arts. An interaction of gesture culture, verbal and sign language and time is another area explored and presented across temporal research domains. ← 9 | 10 →

A plethora of the questions being raised in connection with time and temporal experience in life, language and arts and our involvement in the relevant research and interest in time across numerous fields of studies, led to the organization of the Time and Temporal Experience in Language and Human Life TimeLing conference by the University of Lodz on 10-12 October, 2012. The conference grouped an international consortium of scholars from a variety of academic disciplines: philosophy, psychology, language acquisition, medical sciences, sociology, literature and media studies, economics, translation and linguistics. The conference was made possible by the financial support of the COST Action TD0904 and the Polish National Science Center (Narodowe Centrum Nauki) grant No. UMO-2011/01/M/HS2/03042, with continuous support of the University of Lodz authorities represented by Prof. Dr. habil. Piotr Stalmaszczyk, Dean of the Philological Faculty. Benefitting from the involvement of the colleagues and students of the Institute of English Studies, University of Lodz, particularly the continuous organizational support of Dr Janusz Badio, the TimeLing conference attracted a number of distinguished scholars of time and provided an excellent opportunity for the participants to hold fruitful discussions and develop new cooperation links. We wish to express our appreciation to all the conference participants and, particularly, to the plenary speakers: Prof. Vyvyan Evans (Bangor University), Prof. Anna Esposito (University of Naples), Prof. James Pustejovsky (Brandeis University), Prof. Roy F. Ellen (University of Kent), Prof. Rolf Ulrich (University of Tubingen), Prof. Katarzyna Jaszczołt (Cambridge University), Prof. Elżbieta Szeląg and Dr Joanna Skolimowska (Nencki Institute of Neuropsychology, Warsaw).

The present volume is a selection of peer-reviewed papers, some of which were presented at the conference, others are written by invited authors. The book is divided into four parts. Each of them deals with a different aspect of time in language. The Introduction is followed by the chapter TIMELY: A network on timing and time perception, authored by Dr Argiro Vatakis, Chair of TIMELY COST Action TD0904.

Part 1 contains eight papers on the concept of time in philosophy, language and discourse. Barbara Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk looks at the question of time from a general perspective and provides an overview of methods and materials used to study time in language and culture. Dwight Holbrook discusses two approaches to the concept of the present, relying on Martin Heidegger’s ideas. James Moir plays down the role of temporal factors in discourse and argues instead that the flow of conversation actually depends on human reactions to language through the words themselves. Jacek Waliński discusses two basic concepts of complementarity of time and space in motion, and atemporality of spatial extension in fictive motion in the two papers which follow. Janusz Badio employs experimental methods to describe perception and verbalisation of events. Jerzy Tomaszczyk proposes his interpretation of older language users’ intuitions across time. Martina Ivanová shows how Slovak evidential constructions depend on temporal aspects of the context. ← 10 | 11 → In the last paper in Part 1, Joanna Latkowska employs a film retelling task to investigate the bilingual Polish-English approaches to creating narratives.

Part 2 investigates aspects of temporal speech processing in two papers. Dan Zakay, Dida Fleisig, and David Neta present conversational materials and a discussion of temporal data in spoken language, and in Anna Esposito, Antonietta M. Esposito, and Marilena Esposito’s contribution visual and auditory timing cues in language tasks are analysed.

Part 3, including five contributions, explores aspects of time in grammar and language acquisition. Andrzej Bogusławski presents an outline of his original theory concerning Polish and Russian verbal aspects as expounded in his book Aspekt i negacja ’Aspect and Negation’ (2004). John Newman and Kristina Geeraert conduct a semantic analysis of time-related tags in the Canadian component of the International Corpus of English (ICE-CANADA). Joanna Pawliczak presents an analysis of metaphors of time in English corpus data. Krzysztof Kosecki argues that time signs in Polish Sign Language are often based on metaphors and metonymies. Agnès Leroux compares ways to construct meanings of duration in English and in French. Finally, Michał B. Paradowski advances a pedagogical model which helps to learn foreign language tense systems.

Finally Part 4, with eight contributions, focuses on meanings of time and temporal experience in literature and the arts. Valery Lichev’s paper draws on diverse philosophical sources to account for the subjective relativity of time in literature. Jacek Wiśniewski analyses the pivotal role of the Great War for the perception of time in early 20th-century British culture. Jadwiga Uchman presents aspects of time in drama and theatre production with special regard to Christopher Marlowe’s play Doctor Faustus. Finally, Sonia Front shows how concepts of 20th century physics are used to render time in Caribbean literature. Selga Goldmane adopts a semiotic perspective in the discussion of how time is represented in literary works and films based on them. Karen Heald and Susan Ligget discuss the perception of time and space by artists and psychiatric patients on the basis of short films, and Magdalena Zegarlińska describes the techniques of handling time in David Lynch’s films.

The editors present the volume with the hope that it will stimulate a wider and deeper discussion of the perennial questions of what time is, and how we construct, perceive, and interpret time and temporal dimensions.

Lodz, September 2013

Barbara Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk and Krzysztof Kosecki

1 Research carried out within COST Action TD0904 TIMELY, supported by National Science Centre (NCN) grant No. UMO-2011/01/M/HS2/03042, Perception of Time as a Linguistic Category.

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From Chair of TIMELY COST Action

TIMELY: A Network on Timing and Time Perception

Argiro Vatakis, Cognitive Systems Research Institute, Greece


How do we perceive the timing of everyday events? Is physical time comparable to perceived time? The discussion about timing and time perception has been longstanding and has “infiltrated” many different disciplines. But, as yet, time perception has been quite difficult to define, thus leading many cognitive scientists to focus on research related to the interaction of timing with space and timing with various cognitive processes (e.g., attention, memory etc.). In the text below, I briefly present the main topics of interest for TIMELY, including language- the focus of this edited book.

Main Topics of TIMELY

Conceptual analysis and measurement of time: Time is a concept that has intrigued philosophers, anthropologists, biologists, physicists, and psychologists for quite some time now. Since the early days of Psychology, time perception has been among the central concerns of scientific investigations in the field and it has been researched worldwide in both behavioral and neuroimaging settings. However, what concept of time is being studied in each laboratory, and what do the findings really mean? In the literature, one will find a variety of terms such as time sense, psychological time, temporal reasoning, psychological moment etc. and measures of time perception using discrimination, motor tapping, duration, and order judgment tasks, to name just a few. But what conceptual scheme of time perception do all these terms and tasks refer to?

Developmental aspects of time perception: For years now, researchers have been observing the dynamics of protoconversation in early mother-infant interaction. Human infants, beginning as early as the second month of life, can integrate multisensory events on the basis of time [1].

Experience of time by infants and young children, however, is quite different from that of adults, since various psychological and neurobiological mechanisms, which affect sensitivity to time and shape the timing of motor behavior are not yet fully developed [2]. Experimenting with time developmentally will provide valuable information regarding the time course of time perception, but most importantly will influence our knowledge on the association between temporal abilities and the ← 13 | 14 → developmental pattern of the neural mechanisms underlying time perception early in human development.

Culture and language: These domains are major constituents of the sociocultural context which interacts with our experience of time, but their influence on human time perception is yet under-researched. We generally perceive time as moving forward and we often express this linguistically using spatial metaphors. It has also been demonstrated that people whose native language conceptualizes time with a different directionality (vertical vs. horizontal) interpret statements regarding time differently [3]. Thus, suggesting that our concept of time is modulated by the way a given language associates the concepts of time with nontemporal concepts such as space. What happens in the cases where the concept of time is ambiguously represented in language? For instance, the Hindi language uses only one word “kal” for both “yesterday” and “tomorrow” with the meaning being determined by the context [4]. While the Aymara people appear to have a reverse concept of time by using gestures that place the past ahead and the future behind [5]. The interaction of language, culture, and timing in, thus, a highly interesting topic for current and future investigation.

Uncovering the neural correlates of time perception: In order to better understand the mechanisms underlying time perception, it is essential to investigate the existence of specialized brain systems for representing time and the specific structures involved in these systems. Research to date has provided strong evidence that specific structures in the human brain play a role in the processing of temporal information (e.g., basal ganglia, premotor and motor cortex, superior temporal gyrus, inferior prefrontal cortices). The cerebellum, for example, is argued to be involved in a variety of tasks such as speech perception/production, where the timing of brief intervals is an important component. However, it is not yet clear whether or not the cerebellum is involved only in the short-interval timing, or whether it covers a wide duration range. Recent evidence also showed that the parietal cortex is involved in the processing of temporal intervals. Studies of patients with right parietal stroke have shown decreased temporal order sensitivity for visual stimuli in the contralesional side of space [6]. Such findings, suggest that the right parietal cortex may also play an important role in multisensory integration as a function of time and space.

Understanding time perception is also critical in clinical populations. For example, neglect patients mainly show an impairment related to a spatial component of an event, however, neglect can also be observed in the temporal domain [7]. Patients suffering from schizophrenia, depression, or bipolar disorder experience a disorganized time perception. Finally, in studies with dyslexic patients, a deficit in the processing of rapidly presented stimuli has been demonstrated [8]. It seems therefore that other disorders (e.g., aphasia) may have a temporal component that has not been explored yet. Brain functional neuroimaging and animal research ← 14 | 15 → should contribute in further elucidating the underlying mechanisms of time perception.

Time perception research extensions to practical, everyday applications: Given the ambiguity surrounding the concept of time, along with the difficulty in understanding timing, the development of time-related applications has been lagging. Even in Artificial Intelligence, the concept of time and its application in Robotics has not yet been properly explored. The limited time-related applications that have been developed are very successfully and useful. For instance, Tallal and colleagues have developed a therapeutic technique for dyslexics that involve training in temporal processing related tasks. This therapeutic technique was based on research data showing that expanding the transitional element of synthetic syllables (by increasing the formant transition duration from 40 to 100 ms) significantly improved temporal order performance in dyslexics [8].

Until now, scientists have been trying to approach these fundamental issues from a single-discipline perspective. It is now clear, however, that multiple disciplines must interact in order to resolve these issues. TIMELY is one such union bringing together over 200 senior and junior scientists involved in the study of time from different perspectives. This common multidisciplinary effort is unique with the potential to take time-research a step forward.


This work has been supported by the European project COST ISCH Action TD0904 “Time In MEntaL activitY: theoretical, behavioral, bioimaging and clinical perspectives (TIMELY)”. Publication supported with Narodowe Centrum Nauki (National Science Centre) grant No. UMO-2011/01/M/HS2/03042.


1. Lewkowicz, D.J.: Perception of Auditory-Visual Temporal Synchrony in Human Infants. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 22, 1094--1106 (1996)

2. Droit-Volet, S.: Temporal Experience and Timing in Children. In: W. Meck (ed.) Functional and Neural Mechanisms of Interval Timing, pp.183—205, CRC Press, Florida (2003)

3. Boroditsky, L.: Does Language Shape Thought? Mandarin and English Speakers’ Conceptions of Time. Cognitive Psychology 43, 1--22 (2000)

4. Lemieux, A.: Evidence from Hindi for Proximity as a Consistent Temporal Relation. In: Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America (LSA), Jan 8-11 (2009)

5. Nuñez, R.E., Sweetser, E.: With the Future Behind them: Convergent Evidence from Language and Gesture in the Crosslinguistic Comparison of Spatial Construals of Time. Cognitive Science 30, 410--450 (2006)

6. Snyder, J.J., Chatterjee, A.: Spatial-Temporal Anisometries Following Right Parietal Damage. Neuropsychologia 42, 1703--1708 (2004)

7. Becchio, C., Bertone, C.: Time and Neglect: Abnormal Temporal Dynamics in Unilateral Spatial Neglect. Neuropsychologia 44, 2775--2782 (2006) ← 15 | 16 →

8. Tallal, P., Miller, S.L., Bedi, G., Byma, G., Wang, X., Nagarajan, S.S., Schreiner, C., Jenkins, W.M., Merzenich, M.M.: Language Comprehension in Language-Learning Impaired Children Improved with Acoustically Modified Speech. Science 271, 81--84 (1996)

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Time and Time Experience in Language

Barbara Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk1, University of Lodz, Poland


The paper focuses on the perception of time and temporal categories as mediated via language and in particular on the interplay between their ontological position juxtaposed with their conceptual function, also with respect to the framework of temporal metaphoric representations and construal in terms of a range of linguistic structure types. It is proposed that temporal expressions are used in language to account for the structure of events under the cognitive assumption of iconicity between form and meaning. A discussion is presented on fully elaborated temporal expressions in event structure as opposed to their reduced versions as well as their contribution to asymmetric events in language, and exemplified with the materials from large language corpora.


Aktionsart, aspect, asymmetric events, construal, English, grammar, iconicity, linguistic elaboration, metaphor, modality, morphology, parts of speech, Polish, Relativity Hypothesis, resemblance, temporality, tense, time


The questions which arise with reference to time experience and its manifestation in language involve a number of specific issues. The first relates to the way experience humans acquire and posses is organized in terms of a temporal framework and how this experience is expressed in terms of the grammatical categories available in languages. How do linguistic forms accommodate various types of temporal displacement, in which the actual temporal point of reference is different from that described or referred to in a linguistic utterance? Then the question is what mental models language users develop to grasp and convey the notion of time, particularly in terms of the ongoing debate on the actual (physical and ontological) and cognitive (conceptual) position and function of time, particularly with reference to space. And finally, what kind of methods can be used to examine the ways the experience of time and conceptualizations of time are expressed in linguistic form.

There exist at least a few main areas of difference between space and time. Directionality of time is considered in physics not to be the property of time itself but rather a property of (thermodynamic, etc.) processes in time (Callender_FQX.pdf p. 2). While space as w know it has three dimensions, time is unidimensional. There is ← 19 | 20 → also the metrical difference between space and time as well as the experience of absence of the ‘free mobility’ within time, contrary to space, although the latter lacks support in Einstein’s Relativity Theory. Furthermore, even when one talks of spacetime, with four dimensions, three – spatial, and one – temporal, the three spatial dimensions would be distinct from the fourth – temporal sub-dimension, constituting a distinguished sub-space of spacetime, where space is not used in the usual geographical sense but it is understood rather as a mathematical construct of a space of events (see Minkowski 1909).

It is hoped that a discussion of the linguistic expression of time can shed some light on the problem of getting to the nature of what time is2. Psychologically, for a human being and language user, time and space are not synonymous even though most of the linguistic resources as used to talk about space can be taken over to express the temporal dimension.

Time as a concept

Time is not understood directly. It is a very special concept which, unlike many other concepts in language, does not belong precisely either to the category of concrete objects, i.e., objects which have their reference in the actual world, or, unambiguously, to the class of abstract objects, whose referents are mental representations only. Time is both physical – we see the consequences of the flow of time and changes it reveals, and mental – there are no extramental time representations or referents available in the physical world. The problems with time representations and temporal meanings are remedied by language users via metaphoric thinking (Lakoff and Johnson 1991). We liken time to other, better understood, physical objects and by using these different kinds of mapping of the physical objects and their properties from one or another Source Domain onto the less precisely known Target Domain of time, i.e., by using metaphor, we make an attempt to illuminate the intangible concept of time.

Temporal expressions are used in language to describe events or express their structure (Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk 2011). A content analysis of temporal expressions is performed here under the cognitive assumption of iconicity between form and meaning, i.e. the existence of a special relation of resemblance or correspondence between a structural pattern in which a temporal expression is used and the conceptualization (meaning) it conveys (Langacker 1987, 1991). The overall purpose in the present paper is to highlight some conditions on the use of the temporal units in language and their metaphoric representation (Lakoff 1987). A discussion is also presented on what can be called fully elaborated temporal expressions in event structure as opposed to their reduced versions as well as their contribution ← 20 | 21 → to what I call (Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk 2008) asymmetric events in language. An interpretation of the temporal framework in their respective event structures is also proposed.

Methods and materials to study time in language

In order to see how different types of temporal expressions are distributed in language I resort to large collections of linguistic materials combined in language corpora, in this case, the British National Corpus for English (100 million units) and, whenever is needed for contrastive purposes, the National Corpus of Polish (www.nkjp.pl) for the Polish examples, parametrized to a comparable 100-million word subcorpus. For practical purposes smaller amounts of data, in 15-million word Longman Corpus and a comparable 15-million unit Polish sample will be also used. By applying the Wordsmith corpus tools (Scott 1997), concordances, i.e., all examples of a word or phrase in context, are automatically generated from these large collections of texts, representative of spoken and written media. To investigate the frequency of contextual patterns which are used in language with reference to temporal expressions in different discourse types, other corpus tools are also used. The contextual patterns cover clusters of words, i.e. the most frequent word combinations, collocations, understood as a sequence of words or terms that co-occur more often than would be expected by chance, and keywords, which uncover the internal structure of a particular discourse. It is assumed that a contrastive analysis of such patterns across languages (e.g. English and Polish) may reveal more on the cognitive mechanisms in the conceptualisation of temporally-grounded events.

How time is expressed in language

Time and temporal representations are variously expressed in languages. There are Nouns first of all, whose meaning encode temporal concepts or some of their components such as the word time itself, which in English displays a range of senses (see Section 5), or different time units like hour or second, month or year, or fortnight, not necessarily found in other languages. There are Adjectives, whose meanings can be directly time-bound like early or old, or less direct like fast or new or bald, with the presuppostional content pointing to a prior opposite state of affairs (having hair or expected to be covered with hair). We find also corresponding or monocategorial Adverbs of Time (tomorrow), Frequency (seldom) or Manner (hastily), expressing a temporal dimension more or less directly. Verbs can cover whole Events (I had dinner with them last night) and talk about processes (The plant is growing), states (Tom is old) or other types of action (Peter climbed the hill), clearly temporally constrained. A whole range of prepositions, either uniquely temporal like during or, more often, spatial-temporal such as at, in as well as some pronouns (when) and conjuctions (while) can cover some temporal dimensions either ← 21 | 22 → explicitly or implicitly (furthermore). There are smaller linguistic units such as (bound) morphems, most notably affixes, which have the temporal nature and combine with other major linguistic categories. There can also be identified more complex temporal constructions, phraseological and clausal, such as in two weeks’ time or When I see you next time… which introduce temporal phrases and temporal antecedents.

Lexical - morphological level

At the lexical-morphological level there are ranges of words (free morphemes) and prefixes (bound morphemes) including a temporal meaning element either uniquely pointing to a state change or profiling a process or having a temporal dimension as a presuppositional content.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (March)
non-verbal communication language acquisition tense timing cues grammar conceptualization of time
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 413 pp., 54 b/w fig., 24 tables

Biographical notes

Barbara Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk (Volume editor) Krzysztof Kosecki (Volume editor)

Barbara Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk is Professor Ordinarius in English Language and Linguistics of the University of Łódź (Poland). The author of numerous books and papers, she focuses on cognitive corpus semantic and discourse-related studies of language, with applications to translation and second-language acquisition. Krzysztof Kosecki is an Associate Professor in the Chair of English and General Linguistics, University of Łódź. His research focuses on theories of metaphor and metonymy, cognitive poetics, and signed languages.


Title: Time and Temporality in Language and Human Experience