Where does the conceptual space–time asymmetry come from?

AbstractWhy do people use space to think about time more than vice versa? On one account, a space–time asymmetry in language gives rise to the space–time asymmetry in thought. If so, children should learn that polysemous words like ‘long’ and ‘short’ have primarily spatial meanings on the basis of language statistics. Yet usage statistics from which children could infer the primacy of space are not obviously available in adult-to-child speech: Instead, caregivers use ‘long’ and ‘short’ more often in temporal senses than spatial senses (Casasanto & Kısa, 2019). Here we corroborate this result using word2vec, a vector space model that reflects the co-occurrence structure of words. We show that the space–time asymmetry is also not available in this semantic space: more words surrounding ‘long’ and ‘short’ are temporal than spatial. Rather than emerging from language, the space–time asymmetry may reflect perceptual or conceptual asymmetries that precede the acquisition of spatio-temporal language.

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