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People may perceive time differently depending on their native language: scientists explain how it is possible

Alina MilsentNews
Scientists have developed a "theory of language relativity"

A simple test: try to imagine the process of human aging in a linear fashion at different stages of life: from infant to toddler, then from child to teenager, and from adult to elderly. You probably pictured this process schematically: a baby on the left, an adult on the right.

At first glance, this may seem like a "natural" way of organizing things, but not everyone would agree with you. Scientists have explained that people can perceive time differently depending on their native language. The details were reported by Ifl Science.

Most languages, including all European languages, use a left-to-right reading and writing pattern. Native speakers of these languages perceive time in a linear fashion, from left to right, while those who speak Arabic or Hebrew perceive time from right to left. Some researchers argue that people who read East Asian characters perceive time as a substance that flows down vertically (although other researchers say that this is a rather arbitrary and not entirely correct gradation).

An interesting example comes from the Pormpuraaw language, which is spoken by the Aboriginal community in Australia. It does not have the words "left" or "right" at all, but only designates parts of the world: "north", "south", "east" and "west". Studies have shown that the stories told by pormpuraaw use a flow of time that seems very unusual to us: "time flows from left to right when a person is facing south, from right to left when a person is facing north, "towards the body" when looking east, and "away from the body" when looking west."

Psycholinguists argue that our mental representations of time are indeed influenced by language. These ideas are similar to the events in the 2016 movie Arrival: aliens have landed on Earth, and people are trying to make contact with them. Eventually, people realize that the aliens do not have a linear perception of time, which actually allows them to sense the future. Researchers say that the language themes in the movie are "not far removed from reality."

In most languages, the past is explained as something behind, and the future is ahead. However, for the Aymara indigenous people of South America, their language indicates that the past is ahead and the future is behind.

In 2017, linguists conducted a study that showed that bilinguals can perceive time differently depending on the language they use.

Prof. Panos Athanasopoulos, a linguist at Lancaster University who authored the study, said: "When you learn a new language, you suddenly tune into a perception that you were not previously aware of. The fact that bilinguals effortlessly and unconsciously shift these different ways of judging time is consistent with a growing body of evidence that demonstrates the ease with which language can penetrate our basic senses, including our emotions, our visual perception, and now it appears, our sense of time.

There is also a linguistic theory of relativity, the so-called Sepir-Whorf hypothesis. According to this theory, the language a person speaks can influence their perception of the world and cognitive processes.

Earlier, OBOZ.UA told how to learn a new language quickly.

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