Time is Space

Theoretical Questions

How is time reflected in language? It appears that most languages use a time is space metaphor, understanding points in time like points in space (on Monday is understood like on the table), and periods of time like containers (in the year 2010 is understood like in the box), but what variation in the use of metaphor for time expressions are there in languages?

How do the metaphors that languages use evolve?

How are linguistic metaphors for time articulated with metaphorical understandings of time as expressed in the realms of science, belief, and art?

Practical Outcomes

This project combines a tightly focused empirical investigation of linguistic metaphor with a broader examination of the same metaphor in the realms of science, belief, and art. The metaphor is time is space, which at an abstract level may be universal in language and thought, but is probably realized differently in different languages and cultures. We will explore the diversity behind a variety of time is space metaphors using well-documented facts specific to the Slavic languages, namely time expressions and categories of tense and aspect. The aim is to compare linguistic concepts of time with similar concepts from other abstract realms of cognitive experience. The purpose of this comparison is to discover how such conceptual systems evolve and to what extent they are compatible across realms.

Aspect in Slavic: Creating Time, Creating Grammar is a special issue of the Journal of Slavic Linguistics (2013, issue 21:1) guest edited by Laura A. Janda. This volume contains the following contributions representing the output of the TIME IS SPACE project:

  • “Creating the contours of grammar”, an introductory article by Laura A. Janda.
  • “On The Origin of the Slavic Aspects: Aorist and Imperfect”, by Henning Andersen
  • “How Telicity Creates Time”, by Östen Dahl.
  • “See, Now They Vanish: Third-Person Perfect Auxiliaries in Old and Middle Czech”, by Stephen M. Dickey.
  • “The History of the Russian Semelfactive: The Development of a Radial Category”, by Tore Nesset.
  • “Verbal Prefixation and Metaphor: How Does Metaphor Interact with Constructions?”, by Svetlana Sokolova.


The Time is Space project was supported by a grant from the Centre for Advanced Study at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters in Oslo.

In the year 2011/2012 Laura A. Janda and Tore Nesset were group leaders of the Research group "Time is Space: Unconscious Models and Conscious Acts" at the Centre for Advanced Study in Oslo.