Imagine….no please don’t burst into a John Lennon impression…but imagine people who think of time differently from the way we conceptualise it in English. People who see the past as in front and the future as behind them. People who see time as static and humans moving through it. And…people who really don’t measure it in any numerical way.
Whilst I was away last week at a language and linguistics conference at Colchester University [more about the beautiful city itself on my Travelling Hamster blog site], one of the speakers explained how she has been researching Amazonian villages where they only have the numbers 1 to 4, where they have no concept of how old people are, and..best of all…no concept of ever being late 🙂
It blew our minds as we sat through the talk. Time is, well, however long something takes. Words for tomorrow, today and yesterday simply don’t exist. They have stages of life which are marked by new names; being ready to marry, being too old to work, yet these are whenever they occur for each individual – not some arbitary age of consent or retirement age such as we have in our culture.
They use concepts such as rainy and dry seasons, height of the sun, depth of the flood-waters to refer to events, but again these simply happen when they happen – there is no set clock or calendar date to announce the first day of summer and other similar chronological divisions. Somehow, in a way incomprehensible to we time-obsessed cultures, time does not exist as a separate concept to the event which is happening. How happy would Alice’s white rabbit be at that thought?
For more on languages which encode time in different ways, the following may be of interest:
http://language.ucsd.edu/papers/language-time.pdf – Boroditsky – How languages Construct Time
https://www.google.co.uk/search?tbo=p&tbm=bks&q=isbn:1483506088 – A Walk in the Garden of Time
And, the paper by the speaker at the conference [whose name is Vera and is great fun to have curry with]