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Evidence Against Linguistic Relativity in Chinese and English: A Case Study of Spatial and Temporal Metaphors

by Jeanette Altarriba, Chi-Shing Tse
Journal of Cognition and Culture ()


To talk about time, English speakers often use horizontal spatial metaphors whereas Chinese speakers use both vertical and horizontal spatial metaphors. Boroditsky (2001) showed that while Chinese-English bilinguals were faster to verify a temporal target like June comes earlier than August after they had seen a vertical spatial prime rather than a horizontal spatial prime, English monolinguals showed the reverse pattern, thus supporting the linguistic relativity hypothesis. This finding was not conceptually replicated in January and Kako's (2007) six experiments for English monolinguals. In the current experiment, we failed to conceptually replicate her English monolinguals' findings: both Chinese-English bilinguals and English monolinguals were faster to verify the sentences after seeing a vertical spatial prime than a horizontal spatial prime. While we replicated Boroditsky's findings, in part, for our Chinese-English bilinguals, the similarity in the pattern of findings for both Chinese-English bilinguals and English monolinguals argues against the linguistic relativity hypothesis.

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