The metaphorical orientation of time in Chinese

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This paper studies the metaphorical time orientation in Chinese along its horizontal and vertical axes. It will focus, however, on the controversy over its horizontal axis, readdressing the issue regarding whether the Chinese ego faces toward the future or past in metaphorical orientation of time. It is interesting to note that there exist three different views on this issue. To reinforce the view that future is in front of ego and past is behind ego in Chinese, the paper argues that in analyzing data it is important to make two crucial distinctions. The first distinction, extensively discussed in the literature, is between Ego-Reference-Point (Ego-RP) and Time-Reference-Point (Time-RP). The second related distinction, which has been largely ignored, is between Time-Referent (Time-R) and Human-Referent (Human-R). The study shows that once these two distinctions are made, the seemingly contradictory linguistic data will fall into places that form a coherent metaphorical system. The purpose of making these distinctions is to avoid confusion between past and future on the one hand and anteriority and posteriority on the other. It is hoped that this study contributes to the recent efforts to build a comprehensive framework of temporal reference frames applicable to the study of spatial construal of time in languages and cultures in general.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1335-1354
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Issue number10
StatePublished - Aug 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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