There are languages which have absolute rather than egocentric direction systems - you don't have a left foot and a right foot, but you may have a north foot and a south foot, or an east foot and a west foot, depending on which way you're facing. At least one such language is spoken in Australia. Speakers of that language, when asked to arrange a sequence of pictures to tell a story, order them from east to west. It seems that their cultural metaphor for the passage of time is the motion of the sun.

Pete Bleackley
The Fantastical Devices of Pete The Mad Scientist -

-----Original Message-----
From: Gary Shannon <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
Sent: Wed, 10 Dec 2014 6:04 PM
Subject: Mixing up Spatialization

One of the fun things about conlanging is discovering things that you take
for granted and then making the effort to cease taking them for granted.
E.g. a naive beginning conlanger might take for granted that every language
has a past tense, or a plural, or a word for "the".

A bit more subtle is spatialization. For example, we think of the future as
"ahead" and the past as "behind". We look "forward" to a party, and put our
mistake "behind" us. Good is up and bad or evil are down. But we shouldn't
take any of those far granted and just produce translations in our conlang.
Why can't the future be to our right and the past to our left? Or the
future to the west and the past to the east (that feels pessimistic,
anticipating sunset and the coming darkness) or the future to the east and
past to the west (that feels optimistic, anticipating dawn and escaping
from the darkness).

Why should happy be up and sad be down when happiness could just as easily
be wide and sadness narrow? Why can't right be good and left (sinister) be

Some spatializations have obvious biological or mechanical justifications.
Asleep is down and awake is up. That seems like it might be universal
(except perhaps for a species of intelligent bats, for whom asleep is
upside down and awake is right side up.)

Is the general always "above" his "underlings"? Why can't a "higher" rank
be a "forward" ("leading") rank. The boss could just as easily be "ahead"
as "above".

Anyway, I woke up this morning thinking about idioms, and how some idioms
are based on metaphors, and how some metaphors are spatial, and one thing
lead to another, and I decided to make a conscious effort to not take
spatialization for granted in my conlang.

I am looking "forward" to hearing about how other conlangs have
"approached" the spatialization issue.