The future is behind you

According to an interesting article I came across today, in Tuvan (Тыва дыл), a Turkic language spoken in the Republic of Tuva in southern Siberia, the future is behind you and the past is in front of you. Which makes sense as you can ‘see’ the past, or at least remember it, but you can’t see the future.

In Chinese languages time is described as flowing vertically in some contexts, so the past is above you and the future below you. In Mandarin, for example, last week is 上個月 [上个月] (shàng gè yuè) and next month is 下個月 [下个月] (xià gè yuè), or ‘up/above month’ and ‘down/below month’.

Do any other languages describe the past as being in front of or above you and the future as being behind or below you? Or are there other was to describe the flow of time?

I’m going Llandudno

The other day in the supermarket I heard a bloke say to his friend something like, “Tomorrow I’m going Llandudno” – the lack of to after going struck me as slightly strange, though the utterance was perfectly understandable. I’ve heard a few other people talking about going to places without the to and wondered if anyone else has noticed this, or any similar expressions.

When you think about it, go is rarely used without a preposition such as to, up, down, out, in, over, under, etc. Other verbs of motion, such as come and move, behave in similar ways and rarely appear without an accompanying preposition.

When you talk about travelling in your country do you say “I’m going up to X”, or the equivalent, if you’re going north, and “I’m going down to X” if you’re travelling south. What about east and west?

When I lived in Brighton I said that I was going up to London, which is north of Brighton, but from Bangor I go down to London, which is south (and east) of Bangor.

Keeping an open mind

There’s an interesting post over on fluentin3months about the importance of keeping an open mind when in foreign countries. Benny the Irish Polyglot explains how he found Parisiens arrogant, rude and unfriendly the first time he was in Paris, and how they were discouraging about his efforts to learn French. He became convinced that all Parisiens were like this and refused to accept any evidence to the contrary for quite a few years.

When he returned to Paris recently though, he was determined to get a good impression of the Parisiens, and found that when he tuned into their ways to doing things rather than expecting them to behave as people might in other countries, he got on with them much better. They have different attitudes to service, for example – the customer isn’t always right – and getting angry with people for not doing what you believe to be their job won’t help. Taking an interest in people also helps.

Keeping an open mind is useful not just when visiting a foreign country, but also when learning foreign languages. Each language has it’s own ways of doing things and of describing the world. They may be quite different to those in your native language, and may appear unnecessarily complicated, strange, ridiculous or even wrong to you. Perhaps this is because you’re not used to them. It helps if you approach such differences with an open mind and accept them, rather than trying to fight them. It may also help if try what Benny suggests – ignore difficult aspects of the language until you’ve learnt quite a bit of it and had quite a lot of exposure to it. Then when you try to learn them, they’ll seem more familiar and less scary.

When I was learning German at school I thought the case system was difficult and found it hard to learn. I didn’t really see the point of it or understand it either – why do you need so many different words for the (der, die, das, dem, den, etc) when English manages with just one, for example? Since then I’ve studied quite a few other languages, some with noun case markings, others without, and have a better understanding of how they work.


Degrammaticalization, a word I stumbled across on this blog today, is the process through which grammatical affixes become independent words.

A good example is ish, which started off as a suffix on words like longish, shortish, etc. Then became an enclitic – an affix that can be detached from the words it would normally be attached to, and stuck on to other words – and finally started to be used on its own. More examples of degrammaticalization include esque, ism, pro, con, anti, ette.

In Esperanto, quite a few affixes can be used as independent words. The suffix -ig, for example, indicates the cause or bringing about of action or state, e.g. blankigi, to whiten, from blanka, white. When used on its own as the verb igi, it means ‘to cause’. This appears to be a kind of deliberate, planned degrammaticalization.

Can you think of any other examples of degrammaticalization in English or other languages?

Free the bound morphemes!