Do Writing Directions Influence How People Map Space onto Time?: Evidence from Japanese and Taiwanese Speakers

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The causal role of a unidirectional orthography in shaping speakers’ mental representations of time seems to be well established by many psychological experiments. However, the question of whether bidirectional writing systems in some languages can also produce such an impact on temporal cognition remains unresolved. To address this issue, the present study focused on Japanese and Taiwanese, both of which have a similar mix of texts written horizontally from left to right (HLR) and vertically from top to bottom (VTB). Two experiments were performed which recruited Japanese and Taiwanese speakers as participants. Experiment 1 used an explicit temporal arrangement design, and Experiment 2 measured implicit space-time associations in participants along the horizontal (left/right) and the vertical (up/down) axis. Converging evidence gathered from the two experiments demonstrate that neither Japanese speakers nor Taiwanese speakers aligned their vertical representations of time with the VTB writing orientation. Along the horizontal axis, only Japanese speakers encoded elapsing time into a left-to-right linear layout, which was commensurate with the HLR writing direction. Therefore, two distinct writing orientations of a language could not bring about two coexisting mental time lines. Possible theoretical implications underlying the findings are discussed.

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