Time is a case in point. Time is fascinating because it is very abstract. We cannot touch or see it but we organise our whole lives around it. The really cool thing about time is the way we actually experience it is in some ways up to our imagination and our language. Because time is so abstract, the only way to talk about it is by using the terminology from another, more concrete domain of experience, namely that of space. For example, in Swedish, the word for future is framtid which literally means “front time”. Visualising the future as in front of us (and the past as behind us) is also very common in English. We look forward to the good times ahead and to leaving the past behind us.

But for speakers of Aymara (spoken in Peru), looking ahead means looking at the past. The word for future (qhipuru) means “behind time” – so the spatial axis is reversed: the future is behind, the past is ahead. The logic in Aymara appears to be this: we can’t look into the future just like we can’t see behind us. The past is already known to us, we can see it just like anything else that appears in our field of vision, in front of us.

[Language Alters Our Experience of Time]