Bilinguals Experience Time Differently.

Anne Rothwell, Press Officer at Lancaster University, reports on a new study by linguists Panos Athanasopoulos and Emanuel Bylund, who “have discovered that people who speak two languages fluently think about time differently depending on the language context in which they are estimating the duration of events.” The paper is “The Whorfian Time Warp: Representing Duration Through the Language Hourglass,” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Apr 27, 2017; unfortunately, it’s beyond a paywall, but the abstract is available here. The crucial bit:

Contrary to the universalist account, we found language-specific interference in a duration reproduction task, where stimulus duration conflicted with its physical growth. When reproducing duration, Swedish speakers were misled by stimulus length, and Spanish speakers were misled by stimulus size/quantity. These patterns conform to preferred expressions of duration magnitude in these languages (Swedish: long/short time; Spanish: much/small time). Critically, Spanish-Swedish bilinguals performing the task in both languages showed different interference depending on language context.

Very interesting, if it holds up; thanks, Ariel!


  1. Lindig Harris (MB Lady) says

    This is interesting. It’s not just time-sense, though, because when I speak Italian or Spanish, my whole body language changes: less space between people, much more gestural accompaniment, etc. Sometimes it’s disconcerting.

  2. Alon Lischinsky says

    The published version itself may be behind a paywall, but there’s a freely-available preprint at the second author’s institutional repository.

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