Do mandarin and English speakers think about time differently? Review of existing evidence and some new data

Jenn-Yeu Chen, Padraig G. O'Seaghdha

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8 Citations (Scopus)


Do Mandarin and English speakers think about time differently? The seminal work by Boroditsky (2001) claimed they do, but the claim did not stand in three failed replications (Chen 2007; January and Kako 2007; Tse and Altarriba 2008). Recently, new data from different tasks were interpreted as further support of the claim (Boroditsky, Fuhrman and McCormick, 2011; Fuhrman et al. 2011). We evaluate the claim, its logical ground, and the existing evidence, including results from the original spatial priming task, the spatial projection (of temporal events) task, and the temporal judgment task. A reasonable conclusion from this line of research is that there might be a relationship between temporal cognition and specific language experience, but the relationship is a complex one which varies with the task, the language of instructions, the cultural shade of the materials, the location of test, the nature and extent of bilingualism, in addition to language and directionality of print. Some of the tasks are easier to replicate than others, and when replicable, the evidence they yield requires careful evaluations, interpretations, and qualifications. Under scrutiny, the evidence appears weak that Mandarin and English speakers think about time in a categorically different way because they use spatial metaphors differently to express time.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)338-358
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Chinese Linguistics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2013 Jun 1



  • Artifacts
  • Linguistic relativity
  • Temporal reasoning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Linguistics and Language

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