Language shapes how the brain perceives time – OBVIOUSLY!

Boffins over at Lancaster University have come to the less-than-startling conclusion that “Language shapes how the brain perceives time

Let’s see how they did it shall we?

First, here’s a quote you’ll probably be familiar with. I’m no great fan of Einstein – boffin of all boffins – but you won’t catch me arguing with this nugget of wisdom:

Image result for einstein time

And on that basis, let’s proceed.

The two university linguists quoted in the article tell us:

Swedish and English speakers prefer to mark the duration of events by referring to physical distances, e.g. a short break, a long wedding, etc. The passage of time is perceived as distance travelled.


They go on to say:

But Greek and Spanish speakers tend to mark time by referring to physical quantities, e.g. a small break, a big wedding. The passage of time is perceived as growing volume.


The point therefore is that if you speak, say, Spanish and English, you possess the ability to perceive Time as Volume (when you are in Spanish mode) or as Distance Travelled (when you are in English mode).

The professors are telling us that bilinguals are more flexible thinkers because of this.

Well, that depends on what we mean by flexible thinking. The fact is that bilinguals can switch from one language to another. Call that flexible if you like. But the limits of each language suggest inflexibility to me.

For example, what if I prefer to perceive Time as Distance? I can’t if I’m speaking Spanish; I’m limited to Time as Volume. And vice versa if I’m speaking in English.

I realise that linguistic professors are doing no more than their jobs when they carry out research projects. But what does this study tell us other than the blatantly obvious?

Eso sí, si eres bilingüe llevas toda la ventaja.

¡Un saludo!


Jim Porter is a co-founder of Speekee®, the most comprehensive Spanish for kids learning program ever to appear online. Jim’s work includes this homeschool Spanish curriculum and this homeschool Spanish curriculum (not a misprint – he wrote two!) and this Primary School Spanish curriculum.

Jim began his Spanish learning journey in 1990. He has been a language teacher since 1994 and he lives in sunny southern Spain. He has two bilingual children. More…

1 Comment

  1. Although the results of the study seem obvious, no one had discovered those particular findings. Additionally, the results are very important because they provide strong support for language relativity.

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