Centre for Advanced Study

at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters

Time is Space: Unconscious Models and Conscious Acts


Metaphors are more than rhetorical devices used to embellish poetry. In their famous study, Metaphors We Live By (1980), Lakoff and Johnson argued that metaphors like argument is war are not only pervasive in everyday language, but also inform the way we think and act. Metaphor theory thus provides a fruitful approach not only to linguistics, but also to cognitive science (e.g. the study of neural activity in the brain, Feldman 2006), the social sciences (e.g. political ideology, Lakoff 2002) and the humanities (e.g. musicology, Zbikowski 2007). Although metaphors largely pertain to unconscious cognition, they motivate conscious thinking and behavior. A field where metaphors have been particularly fruitful is the study of time. Humans have no direct perception of time, which is thus an abstract concept. In language, spatial constructions are used to create metaphorical temporal expressions. When we say in November (English), v nojabre (Russian) and w listopadzie (Polish) we use spatial prepositions to describe a period in time as if it were a container in which we could place an action. Even though the TIME IS SPACE metaphor is probably universal, there is much variation among languages and cultures. Our project investigates the TIME IS SPACE metaphor on the basis of well-documented data from Slavic languages including temporal adverbials and the grammatical categories of tense and aspect. Although a number of metaphors have been investigated in recent years, the historical development of metaphorical systems has not received much attention in scholarly literature. We will compare how time is understood in language with how it is understood in other abstract domains, such as ideology, science and art. Our goal is to find out more about how metaphorical systems develop, and to what extent the mechanisms underlying this development are comparable across domains.

End Report

The goals of the Time is Space project have been twofold:

  • Explore the relationship between time and space in language and cognition by means of conceptual metaphor and conceptual integration.
  • Set new standards for the use of quantitative methods and corpus data in cognitive linguistics.

Russian and the other Slavic languages represent a perfect testing ground for hypotheses concerning time and space and quantitative methods. In addition to the grammatical categories of tense and aspect, which encode time in spatial terms, there are numerous temporal constructions involving spatial prepositions. With regard to quantitative methods, there are large electronic corpora available for several Slavic languages, which facilitate quantitative study of large datasets.

It is not possible to do justice to the numerous new insights arrived at during the year at CAS. However, we would like to mention three points. First, deriving from the Time is Space group’s work is the idea that verbal aspect in Slavic can be analyzed as verbal classifier systems, and that aktionsarten can be understood as socalled mensural classifiers. Second, although it has been known for a long time that time in language is not a mere mirror image of spatial language, the Time is Space group’s work on prepositional constructions has shed new light on “space-time asymmetries”. Third, with regard to quantitative methods the group’s work has demonstrated that new models such as Random Forests and Naïve Discriminative Learning can be fruitfully applied to linguistic data.

The year at CAS was a very positive and pleasant, yet intense experience. Working for a whole year in a close-knit group in an environment that – due to the excellent administrative staff at CAS – involved a minimum of distractions from scholarly work proved extremely fruitful. The result was a large number of publications that has created a number of new insights about time and space in language, as well as the use of quantitative methods in linguistics. However, this is only the beginning. We anticipate that further collaboration among group members will lead to more publications and new insights in the future.


  • Baayen, R. Harald
    Professor University of Alberta 2011/2012
  • Dahl, Östen
    Professor Stockholm University 2011/2012
  • Dickey, Stephen
    Associate Professor Kansas University 2011/2012
  • Eckhoff, Hanne Martine
    - University of Oslo (UiO) 2011/2012
  • Endresen, Anna
    Ph. D. Candidate UiT The Arctic University of Norway (UiT) 2011/2012
  • Kuznetsova, Juila
    Ph. D. Candidate UiT The Arctic University of Norway (UiT) 2011/2012
  • Makarova, Anastasia
    Ph. D. Candidate UiT The Arctic University of Norway (UiT) 2011/2012
  • Plungyan, Vladimir
    Professor Russian Academy of Sciences 2011/2012
  • Rakhilina, Ekaterina
    Professor Russian Academy of Sciences 2011/2012
  • Turner, Mark Bernhard
    Professor Case Western Reserve University 2011/2012

Previous events

Group leader

  • Laura Alexis Janda

    Title Professor Institution UiT The Arctic University of Norway (UiT) Year at CAS 2011/2012
  • Tore Nesset

    Title Professor Institution UiT The Arctic University of Norway (UiT) Year at CAS 2011/2012