The paper investigates the possible conceptual bases of differences between seemingly synonymous and easily definable temporal expressions. Looking at the usage patterns of nominal temporal phrases in reference corpora of English and Polish we attempt to relate these subtleties to the different granularity of the cognitive scales on which construals of time quantities in general are based. More specifically, we focus on a subset of nominal temporal expressions which adhere to the “number + time unit” pattern, matching what Haspelmath (1997: 26) describes as “culture-bound artificial time units”. Using the British National Corpus (BNC) and the National Corpus of Polish (NCP), we first analyse both the variation and the regularity found in naturally-occurring samples of Polish and English. Finally, we compare the patterns of use emerging from the two corpora and arrive at cross-linguistic generalisations about the conceptualisation of time quantities.
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