Amondawa language no concept of time
Posted: 20 May 2011 08:04 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Or, here we go again.

It must be summer again. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen stories like this. The name of the tribe changes, the name of the Professor (a guy from my neck of the woods this time round) but the substance is always the same: a language with no concept of time. I’m sure I recall reading that on close examination this always proves not to be the case but I could be wrong. Anything different about this new one?

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Posted: 20 May 2011 12:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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The Greeks have words for time, but no concept of it.

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Posted: 20 May 2011 03:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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My reaction is the same as yours, aldi.  I just don’t have the patience to wade into yet another such claim, but perhaps the Language Loggers will do it for us.

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Posted: 20 May 2011 05:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Hopefully someone can mount a rebuttal.

His closing seems especially designed to blow languagehat’s stack:

Professor Sinha said: ‘We have so many metaphors for time and its passing - we think of time as a “thing” - we say “the weekend is nearly gone”, “she’s coming up to her exams”, “I haven’t got the time”, and so on, and we think such statements are objective, but they aren’t.
‘We’ve created these metaphors and they have become the way we think.
‘The Amondawa don’t talk like this and don’t think like this, unless they learn another language.
‘For these fortunate people time isn’t money, they aren’t racing against the clock to complete anything, and nobody is discussing next week or next year; they don’t even have words for “week”, “month” or “year”.
‘You could say they enjoy a certain freedom.

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Posted: 22 May 2011 03:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Here is an article that explains it nicely.

[ Edited: 22 May 2011 03:35 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 22 May 2011 05:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Thanks greatly.

Still, does seem that the language has an unusual property.

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Posted: 22 May 2011 08:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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All languages have unusual properties.  We are (naturally) especially struck by those that are different from our own.

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Posted: 22 May 2011 09:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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English (along with all Germanic languages) lacks a future tense or specific words to express futurity. Does that mean English speakers have no sense of things to come? Of course not. We express future ideas periphrastically, using will and shall. We don’t remark on it because we’re so used to it. (We even call our periphrastic future the “future tense,” which is technically incorrect as it’s not a tense.) The Amondawa express age through changes in name. It doesn’t mean that they don’t have a sense of how old someone is or how to communicate that fact.

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Posted: 23 May 2011 02:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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The Greeks have words for time, but no concept of it.

It’s true of many of the African and Asian languages. Some of my educated urban compatriots, especially those in government service, truly have no concept of time till date—they never will.
You may care to see <http://www.drury.edu/ess/Culture/indian.htm> (The Notion of Time in India, Hajime Nakamura, summary by Angie Weicekauskas , ‘93) to see how India had traditionally viewed time. It is an apt piece on the IE semantics and etymologies. The nuances linger in the minds of the populace at large, more as a race memory than as a firm belief.
Why do I have to go as far as the the Amazonian forest to look for “time"-less tongues! Some aboriginal tongues of Eastern India, dialects of the so-called Austro-Asiatic family of languages, only have borrowed IE words to indicate time. It’s wrong to believe that their cultures, before usurping the loan words, had no concept of time. They are fully aware of the flowing nature of time and its irreversibility, as evidenced from certain details of their old lores, and of the various divisions (periods) with which we all try to measure time: sunrise to sunset and the other way round, new moon to full moon, recurrent seasons etc. It’s possible that the loan words had driven the old words for time to oblivion. It’s also possible to express passage of time as “ten or eleven moons (or monsoons or ravi crop seasons) back”, “I got married the year the monsoon flood had reached the elephant-shaped boulder”, etc.
There are many primitive but perfectly legitimate ways of expressing time (as a quantum, passage of, epochal etc) in linguistic terms that we, with our precise watches/ calendars/ computers, can’t even think of. 

[ Edited: 23 May 2011 05:52 AM by Aniruddha ]
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Posted: 23 May 2011 07:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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This from the Wikipedia article on Linguistic relativity:

Whorf’s most elaborate argument for the existence of linguistic relativity regarded what he believed to be a fundamental difference in the understanding of time as a conceptual category among the Hopi.[16] He argued that in contrast to English and other SAE languages, the Hopi language does not treat the flow of time as a sequence of distinct, countable instances, like “three days” or “five years” but rather as a single process and consequentially it does not have nouns referring to units of time. He proposed that this view of time was fundamental in all aspects of Hopi culture and explained certain Hopi behavioral patterns.

Last semester some of this issue cropped up in a graduate course I was taking on what to me was a new concept: linguistic stylistics. I enjoyed the course and didn’t find anything terribly controversial, though it was challenging enough. The point of one particular discussion was simply that we (English speakers) tend to use certain groups of metaphors in relation to certain activities. For example, war metaphors to describe business negotiations. It seems that a lot of this stuff is academic wrangling, which is fine by me.

I think there are two dynamics going on. One is “journalism meets academics.” The other is “human psychology meets the need to return to innocence.” Of the former, what I find remarkable is the journalistic article never tells you whether or not the people have a word for tomorrow or yesterday; if they do, then they have a concept of time. Of the latter, consider the fact that very young children do not understand time. I don’t know exactly when they start to develop the concepts, but I’d say it’s around 1 1/2 - 2 years old. There are plenty of times I wish I were two years old again and had it all to do over again, only the next time I’ll know better what to do.

I didn’t read the original article (linked to in the article in the second of Dave’s links). This is the first sentence:

It is widely assumed that there is a natural, prelinguistic conceptual domain of time whose linguistic organization is universally structured via metaphoric mapping from the lexicon and grammar of space and motion.

This is a straw man argument isn’t it? The rest of the article may be well worth reading.

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Posted: 23 May 2011 12:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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I think there are two dynamics going on. One is “journalism meets academics.”

I would call the dynamic “journalist gets story wrong.” What the linguists who wrote the paper are arguing is not what the journalist is describing.

This is a straw man argument isn’t it?

Only if it is a miscategorization or inaccurate description of the assumption. Otherwise it’s simply a fact.

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Posted: 23 May 2011 10:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Aniruddha’s post and suggested article puts me in mind of a Hindu parable my 8th grade music/drama teacher once told the class. Basically, if a dove passes by a large granite boulder once every ten thousand years, and barely brushes it with the tip of the wing, and this goes on and on once every ten thousand years until the boulder is ground into nothing, this whole process is also just one point in time.

No idea what this means.

http://www.drury.edu/ess/Culture/indian.htm

edit: Or maybe I’ve got it wrong. Maybe it’s that the point at which the last dove’s touch does the final disintegration of the boulder after all those billions of years is also just one point in time. But that’s kind of self-obvious isn’t it? I mean, any single point in time is a single point in time. And as we all know, a “point” in mathematics occupies no space. And if time has no space then there’s no space-time continuum. Man, I’m confused. Which way to South America?

edit again: Sorry about all that. I’ve got a paper to write and I’ll do (or say) anything to avoid working on it it. But people really do have different concepts of time. I’m fairly certain we’re all nearly clueless as to what time really is, except when it comes to missing deadlines. As Newton once said ... oh ... something or other about pebbles on the shore with the vast ocean of knowledge just beyond.

[ Edited: 24 May 2011 04:56 AM by Iron Pyrite ]
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Posted: 24 May 2011 07:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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IP, the story you describe is similar to the Tibetan description of the length of a kalpa.  A kalpa is the Buddhist term for the duration of a world system.  The story I heard involves a mile high column of granite and a Tibetan kata (silk cloth) that is rubbed over the top of it once every hundred years.  A kalpa is the time it takes for the friction of the cloth to turn the granite column to dust. 

In other words, quite a long time.

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Posted: 26 May 2011 12:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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IP and JW


This is not entirely about word-origins but for clarification of certain misconceptions in Western minds seeded by Indians about Hinduism and its purported central philosophy.

If you believe that (a) there ever was an ancient, monolithic religion called Hinduism with an institutional philosophy of its own, (b) the very name of the religion had always been the same, and (c) the concept of time had always been circular, you’ll have to revise your faith-edit system. There were many local religions—many of them pre-Aryan, civilised and aboriginal—in the sub-continent. They were variously known as grāma dharma (largely animistic village system of worship), śaivism (Śiva worship), vaishnavism (Vishnu worship), agnism (fire worship) etc and even included aetheism. They were systems of faith sometimes collectively called the sanātana (traditional) faiths (note the plural). There were upanishadic philosophies of different hues and shades. The atheistic philosophies were propounded by the Chārvāka cult since approximately the late vedic times but before Buddha.

Buddha, Jaina and Ajīvaka were 6th century BCE atheist philosophers who sought The Truth—whatever that was. They founded three independent and institutional dharmas, once called the new dharmas. Dharma never was the same as religion (you may Google the word to find out more) as it is now. The new faiths were originally based on certain codes of humane conduct and the need to sacrifice for others’ good, later embellished heavily with the concept of rebirth and some age-old regional mumbo jumbo.

A theologian called Śankarācharya (9th century CE) made an immense effort to re-establish the sanātana faith (note the singular) to stanch the tide of the new faiths. That needed a central philosophy for all the elements of the sanātana faiths. The Śankara philosophy was synthetic, though apt for the purpose.

The concept of time had not always been circular in all regions of the subcontinent. Unfortunately, the more vocal factions of the modern era found greater propaganda value in the circular time theory. Yes, the cyclic season changes (and the clockwork return of the monsoons, in particular) may have had influenced this strictly regional and purānic concept but it was, by no, means universal then or now, as evidenced by the immense body of lay and religious literatures of that period onwards—no matter what you are told.

And the term Hinduism (for the so-called religion) is not older than the Mughal period.

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Posted: 26 May 2011 09:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Having read extensively in the literature that Aniruddha touches upon above, I can say what Aniruddha has stated about the vast body of writing and word-of-mouth tradition in philosophy/religion of India is understatement.

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