Monday, 23 May 2011

Languages that lack abstract concepts of time

An article being published in many news sources this week ( claims that an Amazonian tribe called the Amondawa lack a concepts of time - but again, I find the headlines to be a bit misleading.

Disregarding The Sun and The Daily Mail, since it's generally a cheap shot to pick at their science news, we'll take a look at the BBC, who ran the headline: "Amondawa tribe lacks abstract idea of time, study says", while directly below by a few lines, they quote one of the researchers as saying, "We're really not saying these are a 'people without time' or 'outside time'... Amondawa people, like any other people, can talk about events and sequences of events..."

Isn't that contractictory?  

The researchers seem to be commenting more on the way the Amandowan people use their language, and do not appear to map time onto space such as with words like 'hour' and 'year'.  They still seem to use a concept of time, as it is mentioned people's names change as they age and come into a different stage of their life - it sounds like a pretty strong concept of time to me!  Just perhaps different linguistically from the languages we are used to in societies that are constantly watching the clock.

One of the research team along with an Amandowan child and their parent

It is noted, of course, that Amandowans who speak Portuguese are completely able to use these time-space mappings.  This supports how our culture affects our language - while the influence the other way around might be much smaller.

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