Tribes of the Amazon: The Amondawa Tribe and Their Unique Conceptualization of Time
It’s pretty obvious to me that language influences thought. It dictates our concepts and shapes our worldview. We saw this with the Pirahã, and now with the Amondawa. I am completely fascinated by the diversity in language and customs of all of these tribal groups found in the Amazon, there is so much we don’t know, and that’s really exciting to me as it presents something to explore. Since I’ve been writing all morning about the unique languages of amazonian tribes, here’s another cool one that’s undermining our western notions of how language works:
Telling Time in Amondawa
In a new study published in the journal Language and Cognition “When Time is Not Space,” a team of researchers from University of Portsmouth and Federal University of Rondonia claim that the Amondawa, a small Amazonian tribe, speak a language with a very uncommon conceptualization of time. The story was recently picked up by BBC, revealing that the debate about whether language influences thought is very much alive and newsworthy.
The Amondawa lacks the linguistic structures that relate time and space – as in our idea of, for example, “working through the night”.
The study, in Language and Cognition, shows that while the Amondawa recognise events occuring in time, it does not exist as a separate concept.
The idea is a controversial one, and further study will bear out if it is also true among other Amazon languages.
The Amondawa were first contacted by the outside world in 1986, and now researchers from the University of Portsmouth and the Federal University of Rondonia in Brazil have begun to analyse the idea of time as it appears in Amondawa language.
“We’re really not saying these are a ‘people without time’ or ‘outside time’,” said Chris Sinha, a professor of psychology of language at the University of Portsmouth.
“Amondawa people, like any other people, can talk about events and sequences of events,” he told BBC News.
“What we don’t find is a notion of time as being independent of the events which are occuring; they don’t have a notion of time which is something the events occur in.”
The Amondawa language has no word for “time”, or indeed of time periods such as “month” or “year”.
The people do not refer to their ages, but rather assume different names in different stages of their lives or as they achieve different status within the community.
But perhaps most surprising is the team’s suggestion that there is 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, forming the basis of what is known as the “mapping hypothesis”.
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 team hypothesises that the lack of the time concept arises from the lack of “time technology” – a calendar system or clocks – and that this in turn may be related to the fact that, like many tribes, their number system is limited in detail.
(Via BBC) Read the whole article…