Poster A65, Thursday, August 16, 10:15 am – 12:00 pm, Room 2000AB

How spatial-temporal metaphors shape time conceptualisation in bilinguals

Yang LI1, Guillaume Thierry1;1School of Psychology, Bangor University

Chinese, similarly to English, places the future in the front space and the past behind the speaker. However, some expressions in Chinese involve counter-intuitive spatial-temporal metaphors referring to the opposite direction of the common future-in-front orientation. For example, the year before last (前年, qian-nian) and the day before yesterday (前天, qian-tian) in Chinese both contain the character 前(qian) which literally means ‘front’. Conversely, words referring to the year after next and the day after tomorrow in Chinese both contain the character 后 (hou), which literally means ‘back’. Here, we investigated how such spatiotemporal metaphors unconsciously affect time conceptualization in Chinese-English bilinguals. English controls and Chinese-English bilingual participants sat in the centre of a sound-attenuated room and heard stimuli played through loudspeakers located in front of them and in their back. Stimuli consisted of audio recordings of days of the week (e.g., “Thursday”) or years (e.g., “2017”). On each trial, participants indicated whether the stimulus heard was either one day / year away from the present time in the past or future or two days / years away from the present time in the past or future by pressing designated buttons. English native speakers were only tested in English while Chinese-English bilingual participants were tested once in Chinese Mandarin and once in English. When dealing with Chinese stimuli, Chinese-English bilinguals displayed no congruency effect of time reference in relation to loudspeaker location. However, when the spatial-temporal metaphor in Chinese conflicted with the combination of English stimulus and loudspeaker location, we recorded increased N400 amplitudes as compared to compatible combinations. For instance, the stimulus “2019” presented through the front loudspeakers elicited a greater N400 than the same stimulus presented in the back of the participant, and, reciprocally, the stimulus “2015” presented through the back loudspeakers elicited a greater N400 than the same stimulus presented in the front of the participant. This effect was found for both years and days of the week and applied when the gap in time between present day/year and stimulus was two rather than one. Furthermore, Bayes factor analysis of the N400 modulations elicited by the conflict between Chinese spatial-temporal metaphors and spatial location of the loudspeakers delivering the stimuli showed the effects were of the same magnitude in either direction. Finally, we found no such conflict effect in English participants performing the task in English. We conclude that spatial-temporal metaphors implicitly modulate conceptualization of time in bilinguals, not when they operate in the language that feature these metaphors, but when they operate in their second language. Implications for language non-selective access in bilinguals and linguistic relativity are discussed.

Topic Area: Multilingualism