Musings on Time and Space

One of the papers I’m currently writing is about how “time” is understood across sequences of panels. Scott McCloud’s basic position on this is that “time = space,” so moving through space means that time is passing in graphic form. I have numerous problems with this, but more than anything it has made me question why this equation might be made.

I’ve been particularly into Benjamin Lee Whorf’s writings, who argued that the language we speak affects the way we think and perceive reality. A class on this “lingustic relativity” in college is what basically motivated me to study the relationships between linguistics and “comics” in the first place.

Whorf argues that the tense system found in most European languages is what (in part) has created our sense that time is a linear thing. Because we have a past, present, and future tense, it lines up all events in a row. He makes similar arguments to the extant that we create a sense of “space” out of our quantifiers and plural system that relates back to our understanding of time.

So, this begs the question: Will the people who speak a language without a tense system (like Hopi, as Whorf shows) have a different manner of conveying concepts graphically? Would their visual languages lack sequential events entirely in favor of something else more amenable to their spoken language? Would this make the visual langauge grammar dependent on the concepts from the spoken, or can both exist with different systems of conveying events?

This is one of the most fascinating possibilities for research I think: whether the language one speaks affects the language that one draws. In some ways, this is the question that a lot of my work is leading up to. All in good time I suppose…


  • Thats an interesting example you posted. With the constant background, it almost comes across as “animation lite” rather than spatial juxtaposition. In many ways, its like the Australian sand narratives I always mention.

    I can’t say for certain, but I’m fairly sure that the Hopi did not develop a transcription system that was systematized in any way. There have been reports of various Native American “picture stories” that might shed light on how visual thought was conveyed in relation to verbalized speech. But, those weren’t systematic by most accounts.

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