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Temporal Frames of Reference: Conceptual Analysis and Empirical Evidence from German, English, Mandarin Chinese and Tongan

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Despite a close correspondence between spatial and temporal cognition, empirical approaches to the two domains have used distinct theoretical conceptions: frames of reference for the former, and moving perspectives and reference-point metaphors for the latter. Our analysis reveals that these conceptions can ‐ and should ‐ be related more closely to each other. Mapping spatial frames of reference (FoRs) onto temporal relations, we obtain a taxonomy that allows us to distinguish more types of referencing than existing conceptions do and that is applicable to linguistic cases not accounted for so far. A cross-cultural experiment with speakers of German, English, Chinese and Tongan provides evidence for the psychological reality of the newly proposed FoRs and establishes culture-specific preferences. We conclude that spatial referencing systems indeed help to organize temporal representations.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, University of Freiburg D-79085 Freiburg Germany, Email:; 2: Department of Psychology, University of Freiburg D-79085 Freiburg Germany; 3: Department of Anthropology and Cognitive Studies Initiative, Northern Illinois University DeKalb 60115, IL USA


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