Localising objects and events: Discoursal applicability conditions for spatiotemporal expressions in English and German
I will present an overview of my doctoral thesis, which will be published in an abridged form in the Cognitive Linguistics Series by Mouton de Gruyter.
Does temporal language depend on spatial language? This widespread view is based on a number of intuitively appealing aspects that together strongly suggest a conceptual dependency relation between the domains of space and time. Among these, the similarity and frequent identity of spatial and temporal linguistic expressions plus the existence of consistent metaphors that express temporal phenomena in terms of spatial language are perhaps the strongest. Undoubtedly, temporal and spatial expressions are morphosyntactically and semantically close, and conceptually highly compatible.
But is this close relationship also reflected in the application of the terms in natural discourse? The thesis addresses this question by drawing together findings on the applicability of spatial and temporal dimensional terms, i.e., terms that describe the relation of entities to each other on a spatial or temporal dimension (such as before/after, right/left, etc.), followed by empirical investigations that complement earlier results. The method of cognitively motivated discourse analysis adopted takes into account relevant approaches to the investigation of natural discourse but focuses on aspects that highlight the relationship between cognition and language usage. Central to this approach is the assumption that all systematic differences in speaker preferences must have systematic reasons. By analysing natural language, then, principles for the application of spatial and temporal terms are identified that can be traced back to general discourse phenomena interacting with cognitive, domain-related aspects.
The comparison of applicability conditions leads to the conclusion that the application of spatiotemporal dimensional terms in natural discourse does not reflect a conceptual dependency relationship between space and time. Both the fundamental differences and a number of parallels that could be identified can be traced back to more general discourse phenomena as well as to (shared and diverging) conceptual aspects concerning the two cognitive domains.