Vera da Silva Sinha

University of East Anglia

Project Title: Linguistics and Cultural Conceptualization of Time in Indigenous Languages of Brazil

My research will investigate the relationship between spatial and temporal language and concepts, and the way in which concepts of time vary between languages and cultures. The aims of this field-based, comparative and crosslinguistic project are:

• To investigate the way in which indigenous Amazonian concepts of time are organized and expressed, in language structure, cosmologies, myths and kinship structures;

• to advance knowledge and understanding of how language variation is situated in socio-cultural variation, using concepts and methods from anthropology, linguistics and psychology.

The language of space, motion and time has been a key focus for research on the effects of language on thought (Boroditsky 2000). Recent research has shown wide variation in the linguistic organization of these semantic domains. Cultures vary in terms of their dominant spatial frames of reference (Levinson 2000), and this may significantly affect performance in tasks involving memory and reasoning. Temporal frames of reference, their similarity and difference from spatial frames of reference, are a growing topic of research (Evans 2013). The domains of space and time are related by metaphorical mapping relations in many languages, in which spatial meanings and structures are generally seen as more fundamental, and space is viewed as the primary source domain for the structuring of the temporal domain. The analysis of linguistic space-time mapping in terms of Conceptual Metaphor (Lakoff and Johnson, 1999), based upon universal human cognitive processes and capacities, has led to the proposal that such linguistic mappings are universal (Fauconnier and Turner 2008). Recent research by the author and senior colleagues on an Amazonian language and culture (Amondawa) has challenged this universality hypothesis (Sinha et al. 2011; Silva Sinha et al. 2012). Amondawa does not recruit spatial motion constructions to express temporal relations. The Amondawa language only has four numbers and no number-based calendric system (Silva Sinha et al. 2012; Silva Sinha et al. in press). Sinha et al. (2011) propose that whether or not space-time mapping is conventionalized in linguistic structure is determined by sociocultural factors (cf also Sinha and Bernárdez in press). To account for their data Sinha et al. (2011) propose the Mediated Mapping Hypothesis, which accords causal importance to the numerical and artefact-based construction of calendric time interval systems. The argument is that systematic space-time mapping in language depends upon the existence of cognitive artefacts such as clocks and calendars (cf also Birth 2013). There is some support for this hypothesis in at least one other language (Levinson and Majid, 2013). Teories of language variation now recognize the prevalence of persistent, lexically widely-distributed language-specific patterns of semantic motivation, or “semplates” (Levinson and Burenhult 2009). This project will extend the linguistic analysis to the metaphoric and constructional levels and complement this with experimental studies and ethnographic analyses of traditional time reckoning practices.

Supervised by Dr Luna Filipović and Dr Alberto Hijazo-Gascon.

About me

I have a Bachelor’s degree in Portuguese language and literature (1994). I have successfully completed two Master’s degrees in Social Sciences (Anthropology, Federal University of Pernambuco, 2000; Comparative Criminal Justice Studies, University of Portsmouth, 2004). I have also completed doctoral level training courses in Psychology, including research methods (Federal University of Pernambuco, 2000-2002). My professional background includes a 2-year position as a Research Associate (University of Portsmouth) on a project investigating spatial and temporal language and cognition in an indigenous Amazonian culture and language.

In 2012-2014 I held a part time position as project assistant in the Linguistics Department, Lund University, Sweden.

Research Interests

Indigenous Identities, Mythic narratives, Historic narratives, Number and quantificational concepts, Motion, space and time

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Academia profile