English Learner Article Concepts of Space & Time in English

Summary: An article looking at how we see space and time in English

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Space/Time Concept in English

 

Till/Until

1. Time

Till/until are used to refer mainly to time not place. "Before" can be used interchangeably with "till" to refer to time as well:

I won't be seeing her until/before Monday.

 

2. Place

Sometimes, however, you can use them before a place name or a point in the sense of "till we get there":

Go straight on until/till you get to the traffic lights.

I'll wait until she gets here.

This was the poster's original question. . This means the sentence quoted is correct.

 

3. Completion

They are used with perfect tenses to emphasize the idea of completion:

I will wait till you have finished.

 

4. Duration

Till/until can be replaced by „to“ if “from“ is used for duration:

From now to/till ten O’clock

 

5. Lateness

With a negative verb to emphasize “lateness”

She didn’t arrive till midnight.

 

Because of the interchangeable relationship between time and distance when traveling, the use of “till” and “until” for time-based distance is understandable: We don't get off the bus until [the moment of:] Trafalgar Square. I think though that we should make clear that till and until are not appropriate for pure distance as in: It is four miles from here until Trafalgar Square, where to is the right choice of preposition. In a way it is like the time and space theory in physics. Both are related to each other. A specific distance covered necessarily implies the passage of a certain period of time and vice versa. So at a certain point both of them merge. You can't tell the difference between them any more then. I think we need to pursue this topic further in other linguistic phenomena. It is fascinating. In physics time is only change of position in space.

 

The semantic rules of location and Source

The semantic rules of location, source and goal go beyond the field of space. Some verbs of movement (space/time) assimilate locative and predicative:

Predicative…………………………..Locative

Get…..She got angry……………They got into the bus

Go…...He went mad………………He went to hospital

Stay….He stayed calm………… He stayed outside

Drive…He drove them mad…… He drove them to the bank

Leave…He left me unmoved….They left me in the waiting room

 

 

 

 

Time Play

1. Time can be seen either as a point (at) or a period having a beginning and an end to demonstrate change and development (in)

In the beginning /at the beginning

In the end / at the end

 

 

2. In time /on time

If you are in time you are before the time whereas on time shows exactly the right time.

 

3. By/At

By can be either earlier or “at” at the latest.

Who comes first?

He comes at eight O’clock

She comes by eight O’clock

 

Time/space Play                 

1. Time/space with" at":

Point:

At eight O'clock

At my aunt's house.

 

2. Time/space with "in":

Within

In the morning

In my house

 

The play of gerund (retrospective view) and infinitive (prospective view) with time:

1. Remember:

Remember (1) to post (2) the letter. (Infinitive -Prospective view- remember in the present

I remember (2) posting (1) the letter yesterday. (Gerund – retrospective view – remember in the past.

 

2. Regret:

I regret (1) to tell (2) you we can’t hire you (Infinitive –prospective view)

She regrets (2) trusting (1) him. (Gerund – retrospective)

 

3. Forget:

I forgot (1) to phone (2) him (Infinitive – prospective view)

I will never forget (2) taking (1) my umbrella again. (Gerund – retrospective view)

 

4. Go on

She left her job and went on to found her own company (Infinitive: start something new/change of topic)

He had nothing in his bank account but went on spending money. (gerund: do the same/no change of topic.

                   

 

 

Space/time and Culture

Since:

1. The concept of space/time is central in language

2. English is global spoken by people from different cultural backgrounds

 

Teachers need to understand the space/time concept of a relevant culture in order to be able to understand the problems encountered by their students. In particular the English tenses are seen as difficult to master. For example some students might find it difficult to understand the concept of present perfect (simple and continuous) in comparison with past simple. In addition English prepositions of place/time add up to the burden. Most questions are about tenses and prepositions as far as grammar is concerned.

 

The cultural concept of time and punctuality

Language and culture are deeply intertwined. Often the system of a language reflects its culture. This has to be considered when explaining grammar particularly tenses. However, the following concepts are changing or subject to change because of a variety of factors like: modern communication technologies, globalization…

 

1. Some cultures are past-oriented (Arabs). They put a high value on tradition, family, customs and religion. There is often only one present or future tense. This difference is also reflected in the idea of punctuality. You can be late 10-15 (France) for an appointment. In the Middle East appointments are made for a time of the day rather than a specific hour.

 

2. Other cultures are more interested in the present and future (USA). There are many present and future tenses in English. They tend to concentrate on development, changes and performance. It would be rude to be late (Japan, China)

                   

Typical Mistakes

A typical mistake made by some students is to think that the English word „place“ can be applied to anything which refers to spatial dimension. In fact English has a variety of words which might correspond to only one word in their language. Take for instance the German word “Platz” which can replace the following six English words:

 

1. There is no parking space here - Not place.

2. You have more room/space in your house. - Not place

3. This is a nice place for me to live in – Place is OK

4. The football pitch – Not place

5. Tennis court – Not place

6. Is this seat taken- Place! Maybe

 

Which is more difficult German or English?

 

Time confusion with "since":

1. True much depends upon the context, the speaker's view and the meaning of "since". Two functions of since: since as a preposition and as a conjunction of time. If the emphasis is on the point of departure (since being a preposition) something like: since 1998, the point of time is certainly past not present perfect.

 

2. In sentences about changes present continuous/simple can be used instead of present perfect in the main clause when since is used as preposition:

You are sleeping much better since your swimming course

She doesn't phone since she got married.

 

3. Since can be used as a conjunction of time introducing its own clause, the tense can then be past or perfect:

I have known her since we were neighbours

I have known her since we have worked together.

 

4. If you refer to a finished point of time present perfect is used:

It is now a year since we have signed the agreement.

 

In a way phrases with “since” are like mixed conditionals. Nothing is straightforward. Nevertheless, its multiple functions make this little word interesting. Now draw a (time) line with since in the middle as follows:

…………………………..since………………………..

 

The following configuration is possible:

1. As adverb of time - Present perfect (before) - past simple (after )

He has been ill since he started work

 

2. It can come in end position either alone or in collocation with ever. (present perfect)

I haven’t seen him since (ever since)

 

3. Since as a conjunction

- Present perfect simple/continuous before- past simple after

- Present simple before – present perfect after

- Past simple after – Present simple in the main clause

 

He has been working here since he moved house

 

Since in a clause can be followed by perfect tense:

It is ages since I have travelled by air.

Since I saw her I can’t stop thinking of her

 

4. Since - phrases can express temporal location or duration:

I have been lonely since you left (temporal location)

I have been here since three O’clock. (Duration

 

Time with “For”

In addition to a variety of other meanings, “For” can be used with past simple and present perfect depending upon its meaning:

I was in London for two days. (For measuring a complete period of time)

I have been in London for two days. (For measuring an incomplete period of time)

 

The Human concept of Time

First of all the concept of time is a human invention. In reality there is no such thing as time. It is rather motion. As human beings differ in their view it is not surprising to find people having different time concepts. The future is unknown, the past although known is transformed to a dream and the present (what is it?) a passing from to..Most human concept of time indeed places future in front and past behind. Still whether you place something unknown in front and something known but over behind doesn't change much because both are beyond reach. So what is future (front) to some can be past (behind) to the other. Other reasons can be cultural or religious.

                   

Decisions

All life is a matter of taking decisions. We make decisions on a daily basis. There are big decisions which we take every now and then. Little harmless decisions are made several times a day. Decisions are made in the present for the future. They can be made either:

 

Grammatically:

1. Instant/spontaneous decisions or when we make promises: Will

I am hungry - I'll get a sandwich.

I am cold - I'll get a pullover.

 

2. Planned decisions going to

I am going to see a film this evening

 

3. Decisions already made or arranged for (agreement) Present Continuous

We are moving house next month.

 

Lexically with infinitive

Decisions can be made lexically as a substitute:

We plan to build a house

We intend to think it over

 

Time and Change

Change is part of life since life is dynamic (involves change). Change has even become a problem because everything is changing very fast. Change Management is now an established economic concept. English grammar provides different ways of expressing change. Here are two of them (if you know more do let us know):

 

1. Present continuous: changes and processes underway provided the verb is dynamic:

More and more people are working from home.

 

2. Present perfect simple: Changes complete now

They have opened a new restaurant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time and frequency Markers with different tenses in alphabetical order:

 

Always

1. Present simple: He always watches TV (neutral habit – no personal feeling involved)

2. Present continuous: He is always smoking. (habit + disapproval /annoyance)

He is always watching TV (ie I don’t like it)

3. Present perfect simple: we have always had visitiors

 

For /since see earlier postings in this thread

 

Just

1. Past simple: I just came to see you (only)

2. Present perfect: I have just eaten

 

Never

I. Present simple: I never smoke (habit)

2. Present perfect simple: I have never smoked.

 

Today

Past simple: She arrived today.

Present perfect: I haven’t seen him today

Present continuous: I usually drink tea but today I am drinking coffee.

The way we talk about Space we conceptualize Time (conceptual metaphor theory). Time is conceptualized metaphorically through mappings onto space by using two metaphors:

1. The ego moving metaphor

2. The time moving metaphor

 

Mixing Memory

The following text is a quote from “Mixing Memory”:

Consider the following example:

Next Wednesday's meeting has been moved forward two days.

 

When is the meeting now? Chances are, you answered Friday, but some of you may also have answered Monday. The reason is, in English, the statement is ambiguous. This is because in the ego-moving metaphor, we are moving toward the future. Examples of this include, "We're coming up on the first day of summer," and "We'll soon reach the end of June." In the time-moving metaphor, the future is moving toward us. For example, "The Fourth of July is fast approaching," or "The deadline will soon be upon us."

 

If we're using the ego-moving metaphor, then we'll interpret the ambiguous sentence above as meaning that the meeting has been moved to Friday, because Friday is forward for us, but if we're using the time-moving metaphor, we'll interpret it as meaning Monday, because Monday is in front of time moving for us. In the typical experiment, some display of, say, a person moving toward an object (ego-moving) or an object moving towards a person (time-moving) will prime the corresponding metaphor, and result in individuals tending to answer Friday or Monday, respectively. In English, time-space metaphors are always on the horizontal axis: things in the past or future are either behind or ahead, but never above or below.

 

 

Ego-moving metaphor:

Past-----Present ----- Future (Moving forward: Ego-future and Infinitive)

 

Time-moving metaphor

Past…...Present------Future (Moving backward: Time-future and Gerund)

 

The way we talk about Space we conceptualize Time (conceptual metaphor theory). Time is conceptualized metaphorically through mappings onto space by using two metaphors:

1. The ego moving metaphor

2. The time moving metaphor

 

The following text is a quote from “Mixing Memory”:

 

 

Consider the following example:

Next Wednesday's meeting has been moved forward two days.

 

When is the meeting now? Chances are, you answered Friday, but some of you may also have answered Monday. The reason is, in English, the statement is ambiguous. This is because in the ego-moving metaphor, we are moving toward the future. Examples of this include, "We're coming up on the first day of summer," and "We'll soon reach the end of June." In the time-moving metaphor, the future is moving toward us. For example, "The Fourth of July is fast approaching," or "The deadline will soon be upon us."

 

If we're using the ego-moving metaphor, then we'll interpret the ambiguous sentence above as meaning that the meeting has been moved to Friday, because Friday is forward for us, but if we're using the time-moving metaphor, we'll interpret it as meaning Monday, because Monday is in front of time moving for us. In the typical experiment, some display of, say, a person moving toward an object (ego-moving) or an object moving towards a person (time-moving) will prime the corresponding metaphor, and result in individuals tending to answer Friday or Monday, respectively. In English, time-space metaphors are always on the horizontal axis: things in the past or future are either behind or ahead, but never above or below.

 

 

Ego-moving metaphor:

Past-----Present ----- Future (Moving forward: Ego-future and Infinitive)

 

Time-moving metaphor

Past…...Present------Future (Moving backward: Time-future and Gerund)

 

Time-space metaphor is not always on the horizontal axis. It can move up and down on the vertical axis as well.

                   

Place-Time Order

Because English lost its Germanic endings (s III person singular being the only exception: he/she/it eats) its word order was frozen (became rigid). When adverbs of place and time for example come next to each other the order is always place time:

 

I went home yesterday. Not I went yesterday home

 

This order can be violated for reasons of emphasis.

 

Even when making question the English don’t touch the word order:

You speak English. Statement

Do you speak English?

The statement order is not changed with the help of do for making question.

 

The old Germanic way can be seen in questions like:

Who came here? What happened?

 

So nominative, accusative or dative distinctions are lost except for a handful pronouns:

He – him

She – her

They – them

Even whom objective relative pronoun or question word has made way for “who”.

 

 

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