ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2016, Vol. 48 ›› Issue (6): 617-624.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2016.00617

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Chinese native speakers’ processing of different time sentences in auditory tasks

LI Heng1,2; ZHANG Jijia3   

  1. (1 School of Linguistic Sciences and Arts, Jiangsu Normal University, Xuzhou 221009, China) (2 Department of English and Applied Linguistics, University of Birmingham, Birmingham B152TT, UK) (3 Department of Psychology, Renmin University of China, Beijing 100872, China)
  • Received:2015-04-13 Published:2016-06-25 Online:2016-06-25
  • Contact: ZHANG Jijia, E-mail:; LI Heng, E- mail:。


Across languages and cultures, people recruit spatial experience to construct temporal concepts. While there are various types of spatial metaphors for time, particular attention has been paid to two deictic space-time metaphors. According to Lakoff and Johnson (1980), the Moving Time metaphor conceives of time as a moving entity that walks towards or from a stationary observer and the Moving Ego metaphor conceptualizes time as a stationary landscape that the active ego moves towards the future time. In addition, there is also a non-deictic time metaphor, that is, two or more time points or events are located in time relative to one another, instead of being relative to a deictic origo or experiencer’s point-of-view (Núñez & Sweetser, 2006). To date, however, the distinction between the ego reference point (Moving Time and Moving Ego deictic metaphors) and time reference point (non-deictic time metaphors) has been largely overlooked by psychologists. To fulfill this void, the current research adopted a new paradigm that used auditory stimuli and vocal responses. Experiment 1 investigated how Chinese native speakers make temporal judgments about deictic relationships presented auditorily along the body’s sagittal axis—in front of or behind the participants. The results showed that no compatibility effects were observed for deictic judgments on the sagittal axis, indicating that there is no clear association between deictic judgments and location on this axis. In Experiment 2, Chinese native speakers listened to stimulus of sequential time sentences presented auditorily along the body’s sagittal axis and made the corresponding judgment. The results showed that there was a strong compatibility effects between past and future judgments on the sagittal axis. Chinese native speakers tended to associate earlier events with the space in front of them and later events with the space behind them. Together, these findings provide evidence that people recruit space in fundamentally different ways while processing deictic and sequential time metaphors. The pattern of associations we observed for sequential judgments on the sagittal axis in Experiment 1, suggests that motion experience is a critical component of deictic time metaphors. This is due to the fact that participants stayed static and made non-spatialized responses, which may be hard for them to form a clear sagittal deictic association While no deictic sagittal effect was observed, a space-time compatibility effect emerged for sequential judgments on the sagittal axis in Experiment 2, with participants associating earlier events with the space in front of them and later events with the space behind them. As shown in Mandarin, there are more linguistic metaphors which associate earlier events with the space in front of the speaker like qiantian (the day before yesterday) and later events with the space behind the speaker like houtian (the day after tomorrow). The results suggest that Chinese native speakers can still rely on linguistic metaphors to understand sequential time even in the stationary state. Taken together, these results validate the psychological reality of deictic and sequential time metaphors.

Key words: native Chinese speakers, time metaphor, deictic time sentences, sequential time sentences, auditory task