News FocusEvolution of Language

Where Time Goes Up and Down

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Science  27 Apr 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6080, pp. 411
DOI: 10.1126/science.336.6080.411

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Summary

In Western cultures, the future lies ahead; the past is behind us. It is hard for most Westerners to conceive of other ways of conceptualizing time. But at the Tokyo Evolutionary Linguistics Forum, researchers presented an example of another way of thinking—and gesturing—about time: The Yupno people, who inhabit a remote valley in Papua New Guinea, think of time topographically. No matter which way a speaker is facing, he or she will gesture uphill when discussing the future and point downhill when talking about the past.