When you start to learn te reo, you - I- quickly realise that spatial & temporal dimensions - change.dimensions...
Follow me to Pormpuraaw, a small Aboriginal community on the western edge of Cape York, in northern Australia. I came here because of the way the locals, the Kuuk Thaayorre, talk about space. Instead of words like "right," "left," "forward," and "back," which, as commonly used in English, define space relative to an observer, the Kuuk Thaayorre, like many other Aboriginal groups, use cardinal-direction terms — north, south, east, and west — to define space. This is done at all scales, which means you have to say things like "There's an ant on your southeast leg" or "Move the cup to the north northwest a little bit." One obvious consequence of speaking such a language is that you have to stay oriented at all times, or else you cannot speak properly. The normal greeting in Kuuk Thaayorre is "Where are you going?" and the answer should be something like " Southsoutheast, in the middle distance." If you don't know which way you're facing, you can't even get past "Hello."
The result is a profound difference in navigational ability and spatial knowledge between speakers of languages that rely primarily on absolute reference frames (like Kuuk Thaayorre) and languages that rely on relative reference frames (like English). Simply put, speakers of languages like Kuuk Thaayorre are much better than English speakers at staying oriented and keeping track of where they are, even in unfamiliar landscapes or inside unfamiliar buildings. What enables them — in fact, forces them — to do this is their language. Having their attention trained in this way equips them to perform navigational feats once thought beyond human capabilities. Because space is such a fundamental domain of thought, differences in how people think about space don't end there. People rely on their spatial knowledge to build other, more complex, more abstract representations. Representations of such things as time, number, musical pitch, kinship relations, morality, and emotions have been shown to depend on how we think about space.
How weird. I was only yesterday afternoon looking at Boroditsky's work...
But definitely - if you learn another language, spatial dimensions are slightly different, depending on the language.
Neato, for those almost always oriented to the point of banality, the Kuuk Thaayorre language makes it all worthwhile.
Mandarin Chinese has a correlation between time and space that I'm quite partial to:
Next (week/ month/ time)= down
last = up
I like the imagery, not sure how die Christen would handle it though.
Aw, thanks Craig, for your very kind words. I have been stuck in Melbourne (damn you ash cloud!), away from Chch and my frightened kiddies, and it's nice to read this at the end of an otherwise total shitter of a week.
Greetings Muse from London. Your compatriot Stella Duffy told me to write to you. I am trying to spread the word about a podcast we made for guardian.co.uk/books, in which she took part. I produce the weekly show, which this week [24july] is all about how the campaign for gay rights has influenced or been affected by literature. There's a power-packed discussion with Stella, writer/theatre director Neil Bartlett and novelist Paul Burston on which I learnt the difference in modern meaning between "queer" and "gay". And lots more: