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The psychological reality of spatio-temporal metaphors

Samuel, S. ORCID: 0000-0001-7776-7427, Athanasopoulos, P. & Bylund, E. (2017). The psychological reality of spatio-temporal metaphors. In: Athanasiadou, A. (Ed.), Studies in Figurative Thought and Language. (pp. 296-321). John Benjamins. doi: 10.1075/hcp.56


Time provides essential structure to human experience. In this chapter we review the available empirical evidence for a fundamental metaphoric structure such as TIME IS SPACE in figurative language and thought. The chapter is organized into three over-arching themes: Motion through time, that is, the influence of ego-moving metaphors (motion of the observer’s context along a timeline) and time-moving metaphors (motion of events along a timeline) on the construal of time as moving or stationary; Temporal succession, and how it is conceptualized on the specific spatial axes (horizontal and/or vertical) used to sequence events in time; and lastly, temporal duration, focusing on the metaphors used to describe the temporal extension of an event and their influence on the perception of duration. A large part of the experimental evidence lends support to the psychological reality of the TIME IS SPACE metaphor, revealing the inextricable link between conceptual metaphor in language and fundamental thinking processes like perception of temporal succession and time estimation, contributing to the emerging broader picture of the powerful role of linguistic experience in shaping the way conceptual representations are formed and activated. At the same time, the review also reveals that linguistic space-time mappings may be overridden by cultural conventions. Taken together, the evidence available to date suggests that the mental representation of time in humans is the outcome of an intricate interplay between linguistic (i.e. metaphors) and cultural factors, calling for further exploration of this interplay through empirical research.

Publication Type: Book Section
Additional Information: This chapter has been published in Studies in Figurative Thought and Language, © John Benjamins (2017). You can access the published version at
Publisher Keywords: time perception, duration estimation, experimental cognitive linguistics
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neuroscience. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
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