Time, space, and events in language and cognition : a comparative view

Chris Sinha, Peter Gärdenfors

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We propose an event-based account of the cognitive and linguistic representation of time and temporal relations. Human beings differ from nonhuman animals in entertaining and communicating elaborate detached (as opposed to cued) event representations and temporal relational schemas. We distinguish deictically based (D-time) from sequentially based (S-time) representations, identifying these with the philosophical categories of A-series and B-series time. On the basis of cross-linguistic data, we claim that all cultures employ both D-time and S-time representations. We outline a cognitive model of event structure, emphasizing that this does not entail an explicit, separate representation of a time dimension. We propose that the notion of an event-independent, metric "time as such" is not universal, but a cultural and historical construction based on cognitive technologies for measuring time intervals. We critically examine claims that time is universally conceptualized in terms of spatial metaphors, and hypothesize that systematic space-time metaphor is only found in languages and cultures that have constructed the notion of time as a separate dimension. We emphasize the importance of distinguishing what is universal from what is variable in cultural and linguistic representations of time, and speculate on the general implications of an event-based understanding of time.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)72-81
JournalAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
Issue numberFlow of time
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • General Language Studies and Linguistics
  • Learning

Free keywords

  • time
  • space
  • event
  • language
  • cognition
  • culture


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