LINGUIST List 21.3873

Sun Oct 03 2010

Disc: Languages without Past Tense and the Concept of Past Time

Editor for this issue: Elyssa Winzeler <elyssalinguistlist.org>


        1.    Harriet Taber, Languages without Past Tense and the Concept of Past Time

Message 1: Languages without Past Tense and the Concept of Past Time
Date: 27-Sep-2010
From: Harriet Taber <harriet.tabergmail.com>
Subject: Languages without Past Tense and the Concept of Past Time
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I learned in Cultural Anthropology class (taught by a culturalanthropologist) today that:

1. Many human languages have no way of encoding the concept ofpast time (e.g., no past tense, no adverbs denoting previous time),2. Speakers of such languages have no 'linguistic concept of past time,'and3. As a consequence of this lexical gap, the speakers of theselanguages have absolutely no concept of past time.(These averred facts were related to practices of ancestor worship.)

The professor, when asked who precisely we are talking about, saidthat the above 3 claims are true of 'indigenous languages' and theirspeakers; when asked which indigenous languages, he replied 'NativeAmerican languages,' and, when pushed, 'Native American languagesin the Southwest,' and, when pushed still further, 'Apache.' As anafterthought, he also added, 'and the languages of Papua NewGuinea.'

I know that a grammar may refer to past time using aspect morphemes(e.g., perfective), but I am not aware of any human language that doesnot have a way to refer to past time (claim 1); I am also not aware ofany human beings that do not understand the concept of past time(claim 3) no matter how their grammar and lexicon work.

Can a linguist who specializes in an Apache language or any of thelanguages in Papua New Guinea please confirm, disconfirm, andexplain what this professor might be talking about?

Eagerly awaiting your reply!


Linguistic Field(s): Anthropological Linguistics                             Sociolinguistics                             Syntax



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