A study, in Language and Cognition has shown that time does not exist as a separate concept for the Brazilian Amondawa – an Amazon tribe first contacted by the outside world in 1986.
The Amondawa language lacks the linguistic structures that relate time and space. There is no word for “time”, or indeed of time periods such as “month” or “year”. Furthermore, the people do not refer to their ages, but rather assume different names in different stages of their lives.
“Amondawa people, like any other people, can talk about events and sequences of events,” Chris Sinha, a professor of psychology of language at the University of Portsmouth told BBC News. “What we don’t find is a notion of time as being independent of the events which are occurring; they don’t have a notion of time which is something the events occur in.”
The most surprising result of the study is that there seems to be no “mapping” between concepts of time passage and movement through space. Ideas such as an event having “passed” or being “well ahead” of another are familiar from many languages, but in Amondawa, no such constructs exist.
“None of this implies that such mappings are beyond the cognitive capacities of the people,” Professor Sinha explained. “It’s just that it doesn’t happen in everyday life.” When the Amondawa learn Portuguese – which is happening more all the time – they have no problem acquiring and using these mappings from the language.
The study hypothesizes that the lack of the time concept relates to the lack of “time technology” – a calendar system or clocks. Obviously this suggestion also teaches us something about our own technology-oriented culture. Arguably, the use of clocks and calendars rewires our language and brain for the use of time as a separate concept. Yet another example of how the things we design also design us.
Via BBC News.