Chinese-English bilinguals processing temporal-spatial metaphor

Jin Xue*, Jie Yang, Qian Zhao

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    2 Citations (Scopus)


    The conceptual projection of time onto the domain of space constitutes one of the most challenging issues in the cognitive embodied theories. In Chinese, spatial order (e.g., /da shu qian/, in front of a tree) shares the same terms with temporal sequence (/san yue qian/, before March). In comparison, English natives use different sets of prepositions to describe spatial and temporal relationship, i.e., "before" to express temporal sequencing and "in front of" to express spatial order. The linguistic variations regarding the specific lexical encodings indicate that some flexibility might be available in how space-time parallelisms are formulated across different languages. In the present study, ERP (Event-related potentials) data were collected when Chinese-English bilinguals processed temporal ordering and spatial sequencing in both their first language (L1) Chinese (Experiment 1) and the second language (L2) English (Experiment 2). It was found that, despite the different lexical encodings, early sensorimotor simulation plays a role in temporal sequencing processing in both L1 Chinese and L2 English. The findings well support the embodied theory that conceptual knowledge is grounded in sensory-motor systems (Gallese and Lakoff, Cogn Neuropsychol 22:455-479, 2005). Additionally, in both languages, neural representations during comprehending temporal sequencing and spatial ordering are different. The time-spatial relationship is asymmetric, in that space schema could be imported into temporal sequence processing but not vice versa. These findings support the weak view of the Metaphoric Mapping Theory.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)269-281
    Number of pages13
    JournalCognitive Processing
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2014


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