> Units of measure like the foot, the yard, the mile, horsepower,
> however "imprecise" they are, are based in sense experience.
> Even "right" and "left" vs. compass points are more grounded
> in our orientation to the body.
But people are strange and there are all sorts of ways to look
at the world. I found the below fascinating.
Let us return to Pormpuraaw. Unlike English, the Kuuk
Thaayorre language spoken in Pormpuraaw does not use rela-
tive spatial terms such as left and right. Rather Kuuk Thaayorre
speakers talk in terms of absolute cardinal directions (north,
south, east, west, and so forth). Of course, in English we also use
cardinal direction terms but only for large spatial scales. We
would not say, for example, “They set the salad forks southeast
of the dinner forks—the philistines!” But in Kuuk Thaayorre
cardinal directions are used at all scales. This means one ends
up saying things like “the cup is southeast of the plate” or “the
boy standing to the south of Mary is my brother.” In Porm-
puraaw, one must always stay oriented, just to be able to speak
People who think differently about space are also likely to
think differently about time. For example, my colleague Alice
Gaby of the University of California, Berkeley, and I gave Kuuk
Thaayorre speakers sets of pictures that showed temporal prog-
ressions—a man aging, a crocodile growing, a banana being eat-
en. We then asked them to arrange the shuffled photographs on
the ground to indicate the correct temporal order.
We tested each person twice, each time fac-
ing in a different cardinal direction. English
speakers given this task will arrange the
cards so that time proceeds from left to right.
Hebrew speakers will tend to lay out the
cards from right to left. This shows that writ-
ing direction in a language influences how we
organize time. The Kuuk Thaayorre, however,
did not routinely arrange the cards from left to
right or right to left. They arranged them from
east to west. That is, when they were seated facing
south, the cards went left to right. When they faced
north, the cards went from right to left. When they faced
east, the cards came toward the body, and so on. We never told
anyone which direction they were facing—the Kuuk Thaayorre
knew that already and spontaneously used this spatial orienta-
tion to construct their representations of time.