Looking Ahead to the Past

Akin to the spirit of my last post, in the latest issue of Cognitive Science is an article about Aymara Andean metaphors for time. The authors claim that Andeans have a conception of the future as something behind the speaker and the past as in front. This is the opposite of English where most of the time we “face the future” or “look back to the past.”

I have not read the piece yet, but apparently, press releases have been claiming that this reversal is unique to Andean, which the Language Log dispels quite quickly. I find it interesting that much of the data relied on gestures as well as spoken utterances, as it acknowledges the inseparability of conceptual expression in different modalities. What I’m curious about regarding this is what types of graphic narrative system this culture has (if any… I’d be floored if a culture didn’t have a graphic system, but narrative — i.e. VL — is another story).

While not reliant on a front/future type metaphor, the linearity of panels in comics does echo this spatial-temporal metaphor. Would Andean allow for a similar native graphic system? I have no doubt that Andeans could learn and acquire a paneled system, but I’m more curious what sort of native system might arise, since other graphic cultural examples imply conceptual integration with language and gestures.

Hopefully before long “graphic” will become a category as centrally inquired about for studying concepts as language and gesture.

Update (6/17/06): More from the Language Log, this time a defense about the uniquness of Ayamara back/future time metaphors.


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