Does time work differently in different languages? – Hopi Time

Does time work differently in different languages? – Hopi Time


Time ticks forward in English, but did you
know in Mandarin earlier is up and later is down? Or that the Yucatec Maya have no word for
before or after? These sound like the kind of fun facts you
share with a friend and move on. But for linguists, time is at the center of
a major debate: are there languages where time just doesn’t work like we think it does? There’s a linguist who’s spent his entire
career documenting and trying to understand one language: Hopi. After four years of fieldwork in Arizona,
on the Third Mesa, surely he has real insights to share about every aspect of the language. And yet in this long book he focuses on just
one: Hopi Time. Over 600 pages of Hopi Time, with example
after example of how, just like English, Hopi has words for time, like “later” or “temporarily”. The Hopi count days. They use terms like “over there” as spatial
metaphors for time. And their verbs have tenses: they can mark
the future with -ni. Time, time, everywhere time! Ok, so the Hopi can tell time. What’s the big deal? Well, it must’ve mattered to someone, because
linguists and psychologists and people who’d never heard a word of Hopi in their lives
grabbed the book and held it high as proof that time was universal for humans. And then they cursed the name of Whorf. Whorf was wrong! Whorf was a charlatan! Whorf was a con man! Hold on, what’s the fuss? Who ever said that Hopi doesn’t think about
the past, present and future? Plus who’s this Whorf and why is he getting
picked on so much? Whorf was a fire inspector. But one with a unique hobby: Uto-Aztecan languages. This curiosity led him Sapir, who took Whorf
under his wing. Psst, hey, I’ve got some literature that’ll
blow your mind. See, Humboldt and Boas taught us how different
cultures subconsciously categorize the world based on language. But I think there’s more. I think people are at the mercy of language. We’re not living in the objective world, man,
we’re living through our language. Hah, what an odd idea. But as Whorf turned to another Uto-Aztecan
language, he started to see it. Hopi seemed so un-European to him in the way
it handled time. There was no substance called “time”. No timeline that could be cut and counted. No space as a metaphor for time, as if you
could move through time. Not even a past, a present or a future tense. The more Whorf studied Hopi, the more he concluded
that the arrow of time isn’t something that exists in our objective world. Instead, we think about time this way because
we speak Standard Average European. The Hopi don’t share our concept of time because
they speak Hopi. How do the Hopi live without tense? Well, for Whorf, Hopi time is about cycles,
rituals, mental preparation for key events. Above all, they have no objective time. Sapir died at age 55 and Whorf joined him
a couple years later, aged 44. But his ideas were captivating: do people
think about time differently in different languages? Does your language shape your concept of time? Does the language you speak determine whether
or not time even exists for you? These claims, from weak to strong, got the
nickname “Sapir-Whorf”, which I often hear pronounced “SA-pir Whorf”. Hopi Time became its poster child. And an ever-growing big fish tale. Hopi is innocent of a category for time. No, worse, our concept of time would be incomprehensible
to them. Better yet, the reason you have clocks and
watches is because you aren’t Hopi. Hah, and my favorite, Hopi time makes for
better family therapy than the Aristotelian reality Western parents are stuck in. So now do you see the power of these 600 pages
spent vanquishing Whorf and mainstreaming Hopi? Linguists had had enough. Many of them wanted to focus on what made
language universal and innate to all of us. Stop parading Hopi around as an exotic oddity. We all think the same way, we just express
ourselves with a little linguistic flair. So then, time is time is time. It’s settled. Not quite. Dot-dot-dot. Years after Hopi Time, researchers claimed
they’d found new evidence showing Whorf was right about time all along. Like this set of experiments playing on the
difference between how English and Mandarin speakers use space to talk about time. “Earlier” is to your left and “later” to your
right in English, but in Mandarin things get vertical: “earlier” is up and “later” down. Even though these experiments were conducted
entirely in English, native Mandarin speakers were quicker to answer simple questions about
earlier or later after being primed with vertical cues, while native English speakers were faster
after horizontal cues. Thinking about time, it seemed, was shaped
by language. The masses were intrigued, myself included. Someone passed me a link to it in my work inbox years ago, and I wasn’t even with linguists. But in the comments of my old video about
Whorf, a researcher did mention having trouble replicating these results. From what I’ve read since then, that commenter
isn’t alone. Still, it was just one of the many Whorf-like
effects that kept making the news, some from scientific tests in the lab, others from fieldwork
on the ground. So in the Central Andes, there’s a language
spoken by millions called Aymara. In Aymara, your nayra, your “eye” is in front
of you, and your qhipa, your “back” is behind you. That’s normal, but this isn’t. When talking about time, the Aymara speak
as if they face the past, but they have their backs to the future. They even point behind their backs to gesture
into the future. So their eyes are exactly where your eyes
are, but their past is not where your past is. Rare. Unique. But there’s something else about Aymara…
and Hopi. At second glance, some linguists tell us both of them are best viewed as tenseless. Wait, there are timeless languages out there? Well, kind of. Tenseless. It’s not as odd as it first sounds. We already know of languages that are uncontroversially
tenseless. Take Yucatec Maya. Not only are they missing a past, present
and future tense, they even lack words like “before”, “until” and “after”. How in the world do they talk about time? Well, strategies. Complex strategies like context and aspect. It could make a fun followup to dig into the mechanics of how tenseless languages talk about time. But good luck proving any of this makes them experience time in a fundamentally different way. Yucatec speakers do fine in experiments about
linear time, and any effects are subtle. See, if you read the research and not the
breaking headlines, “strong” ideas of language determining time, those are out. Any ongoing debates are about subtler influences. In the end, languages do talk about time differently,
but it’s harder to get speakers to behave differently based on their language. But I’ll level with you. I get the sense that trivia about time and
tenses was never the point. Hopi time became a mascot for a grander idea:
linguistic relativity. Or as Sapir put it, different societies live
in distinct worlds, not merely the same world with different labels attached. That’s an idea I suspect we’ll run into again
in the future. Until then, stick around and subscribe for
language!

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45 Replies to “Does time work differently in different languages? – Hopi Time”

  1. No,…it works the same.

    It might be perceived differently and it might be described differently, but it works the same.

  2. the verb "go" in chinese is 去, when you wanna say you are going, you 'll say 要去, and when you want say you went (to some place) you say 去过。

  3. Let me proffer this possibility; those who see the future ahead of them imagine themselves waking forward in time: those who see the future behind them imagine time moving forward and themselves stationary. Just a thought.

  4. Hebrew, Hopi & other ancient tongues agree that past is in front of us (in our memory) and future is behind us (out of our sight) as Paleo-Hebrew scholar, author and Vlogger Jeff A. Benner [ancient.hebrew(dot)org], explains in this short video "A History of Hebrew: Introduction" > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nR5GQ–YNpI&t=18s

  5. I think the idea that language shapes our thoughts and perceptions is a very valid one, honestly.
    If you take the time and effort to learn another language, you can see how differently those speakers see the world based on the words they prioritize and the imagery they use. Maybe the difference isn't as big as a whole culture having no concept of time, but there's no denying that there are subtle ones. Some languages assign genders and personalities to objects while others see them as inanimate things. Some languages are more centered around nature or time or humanity as a driving force. Some have a hundred specific words for emotions while others only have a few dozen.
    And while those differences don't necessarily mean that the people who speak those languages are living in an entire other reality from you or me, it does mean that the way they think and speak about the world is that little bit different. The way they perceive objects or emotions or the driving force of the world isn't the same as the way you perceive it.
    It's all deeply fascinating.

  6. Time is a tool you can put on the wall or wear it on your wrist
    The past is far behind us, the future doesn't exist

    Oh.

    Whats the time?

    Its a quarter to nine, time to have a bath

    What do you mean, we're already clean

    Scrub scrub scrub til the water's brown
    Time is a ruler to measure the day, it doesn't go backwards, only one way
    Watch it go round like a merry go round, going so fast like a merry go round.

    Lets go on a journey, a journey through time.
    Time is changing all the time, its time to go to time.

    But we don't really want to
    we're going to miss our show

    DON'T BE STUPID FRIENDS
    C'mon its time to go.

    Time is old like the Victorian times.

    With cobbles and plague and speaking in rhymes
    With cobbles and chimneys a simpler time
    With cobbles and sawdust and batteries and slime.

    This tree that is old has circles inside

    The tree that is older has shriveled and died

    The apple that is fresh is ripe to the core

    and I rot over time and I'm not anymore

    Time can be told by the moon or the sun but time flies fast when you're having fun
    There's a time and a place for mucking around

    Like birthdays

    and camping

    I'm friends with my dad

    and then what happened after the olden days?

    Time went new and got old like history.
    Stuff from the past went into a mystery

    an old man died

    but look a computer
    Everything's cool, IT'S THE FUTURE

    Time is now, the future anew, and look at all of the wonderful things you can do
    With gadgets and gizmos and email addresses

    My dad is a computer

    Look at the time

    Its quarter to eight, there's fish on my plate

    Its twenty past day, there's fish on my tray

    Its eleven to twelve, there's fish in the bath

    Its nine thirty, there's fish everywhere… fish everywhere.

    Now you can see the importance of time.
    It helps us make pizza, it keeps things in line.

    But when did it start?
    and when will it stop?

    Time is important and I am a clock.

    If we run out of time, where does it go?

    Is time even real?
    Does anyone know?

    Maybe time's just a construct of human perception. An illusion created by-

    Meh, meh, meh, meh,
    Meh, meh, meh, meh,
    Meh, meh, MEH! MEH!
    MEH! MEH! MEH! MEH!

    Sunrise, sunset
    night and day
    The changing seasons the smell of hay.
    Look at your hair grow, isn't it strange?
    How time makes your appearance change.

    Make it stop!

    Its out of my hands, I'm only a clock
    Don't worry, I'm sure you'll be fine,
    but eventually everyone runs out of
    time.

  7. The most primitive religions seemed to be all about time but perhaps not about months, hours and minutes. Many researchers now suggest circular megaliths like Stonehenge were actually clocks or calendars. Humanity in temperate regions has always needed to know the changing of the seasons, to predict when to plant if they were agriculturalists or when to follow the herds if hunters. As long, dark winters wore on, the people needed to know the sun would return.

    In simple biology, there has to be an understanding of time. Human gestation is about 9 months. However a people may calculate time, there certainly must be a concept that a pregnant woman will give birth within a certain time. Even in primitive cultures, many things must take place in the future whether or not the future is considered "behind". For instance, people get married, probably after some planning and the planning period becomes past while the marriage remains future. To suggest otherwise is to return to the old idea of the caveman whacking over the head, the woman of his choice and dragging her to his cave for a breeding session.

    I think unless a people is as basic as the stereotypical caveman mentioned above, time MUST be part of culture whether or not it is part of the language. Time elapses when food is cooked, skins are tanned, objects are made. Animal life may be timeless such as for herbivores who graze continuously. See it, eat it, eat some more, find some more…. Even so, all creatures have biological clocks, biorhythms that are keepers of primeval time. In subtle ways I would bet biorhythms make the concept of time unavoidable and the rest is the psychological orientation of a people and their language to explain the nearly un-explainable.

  8. The Aymara system is of special interest to me. I have been a nurse and I took care of a man who had had several strokes. He was the only patient I ever had who could not sit down without a great fight. Even with the toilet, he tried to put his head in the hole and his backside against the wall. After a few years of the struggle I accidentally found out what was going on. We had gone to run my dog and the dog was put into the back seat of the car. My patient criticised me for the rest of the trip because I had left my dog at the park.

    Finally he said, "I can't see her."

    "If you can't see her, she doesn't exist" I asked? He said that was correct.

    Whatever part of the brain the strokes had affected had taken away the concept of behind. Thus, for him, sitting down was the same as falling or being pushed backward over a great cliff. He had no concept that a chair could exist if he could not see it. Sitting was a matter of eyes on the seat, backside going down in empty space. My patient's concept of time was also destroyed and this was agony for him as he had NO concept of day or night, despite light or dark. Time simply made no sense. So, language aside, is there a part of the brain that handles time. past, future, forward, behind? Of course, if there is, language would need to express the emotional effects.

  9. its actually a plot of a movie where there is this linguitic lady who meets an alien race and the more she learns their language the more her perception of time gets distupted and a at the end she realises that her memories of her daughter dying is actually her future

  10. Which is it? Why did one researcher came to the conclusion that there is no literal or metaphorical concept of time in Hopi language, while another came to the conclusion that it has ALL of the time related concepts?
    Because it really sounds like one of them is either incredibly incompetent, or lying.

  11. If you know what 'fore' and 'aft' mean you'll realize English does the before / after thing in the same orientation as Aymara. The question is do other languages mix this metaphor up as much as English?

  12. Could the way that English and Mandarin understand time be linked to the way that they write? English: left to right. Mandarin: top to bottom.

  13. I don't understand how time is not an integral part of any language. Even measuring things or thinking in cycles or how these Hopi people did is in fact measuring time, rather you call it that or not.

  14. In albanian time is like the word for future is like the equivalent of a farther place as in over then, or in some cases back over earlier in the case of the past.

  15. The Aymara have an interesting metaphysical metaphor. You a see the past, but you can't see the future. So why shouldn't it be sneaking up behind you while you're busy watching the past.

  16. Would have been more interesting to delve into things like hours and minutes. Years and months are related to astronomy, so those are pretty much universal, and seconds are extremely intuitive (a moment, breath, blink of an eye), so those are universal. BUT what about minutes and hours? How did we decide we should divide time into units of 60 'moments'? Wouldn't it be more intuitive to use the base 10 system so that a minute would be 100 moments, and an hour 100 minutes? Do other languages divide time into other units than hours and minutes?

  17. the native people lived by nature, Light or Sun = morning,, Dusk = prepare for the night. Darkness = sleep. They lived by seasons , they planted by seasons,,, grew by seasons,,, and harvested by seasons. they watched the sun and the moon to know when to plant, when to hunt,, when to gather berries. they lived by the legends and teachings of the elders,, they have a belief that every action should be considered for the next 7 generations,,, i think there would have been numbers or a way of counting. Listening to nature , they made a fine life,, imo.

  18. Keep in mind the publication bias: studies, even though they are incorrect, that capture the human imagination are likely to be published. But hundreds of studies debunking them are uninteresting for researchers to publish, because it does not show any "disovery". This problem is huge across all sciences, and even more so in anything psychology and health – related. (That's my field).

  19. So English-speakers answer questions about time more quickly if they are primed with the idea of left and right. Couldn't this just have to do with cognitive skill, and picturing prior moments where they saw time visually represented left to right like on a calendar? Does this need to have anything to do with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis?

  20. Aymara : pourquoi chercher si loin ? Le LATIN, si proche de nous, a les mêmes propriétés :
    devant = ante = avant
    derrière = post = après.
    Parce que le passé est connu (on le voit) tandis que le futur est inconnu… Pour les Latins, c'était réellement leur vision de la marche du temps. Pour nous, cela a disparu de nos images mentales, mais reste visible dans le vocabulaire de la plupart des langues européennes.

  21. 0:06 Not a Mandarin speaker, but for me personally, I've grown up thinking the months progress downwards (due to the calendar pages progressing as such), the years progress up (since the numbers increase as time goes on), and the hours either up or down depending if it's before or after 12 PM (due to the apparent position of the Sun in the sky).

  22. I believe the reason the Aymara speak of past and future is because they "see" the past they've lived it but can not see the future. It's like waking backwards through life. You seen where you've been but not where you're going.

  23. ummm… English speaks of time exactly as the Aymara do. The word "before" literally means "in front" and the word "after" literally means "behind". We still use the words "fore" and "aft" in shipping terminology. Indeed, the word "behind" can also be used of time ("I'm behind schedule": i.e. you're lingering on an activity after you should have moved on according to your schedule). It literally refers to the back side of your body, "hind quarters" is a polite way of referring to an animal's butt. We think of time as flowing from right to left because that's the direction we write in. But in a non-literate society, it would be natural to speak of facing the past with your back to the future. Our words for time developed long before anyone was writing anything in English: you can still pick them out of Beowulf.

    The odd one out is Classical Greek: which speaks of the future as "before" and the past as "after". The ancient Greeks saw themselves as facing a predestined future, but recognized the faultiness of memory and recorded history. The past was subject to interpretation, and was ultimately lost. It could not be recaptured or recreated. The future however could be predicted from observing trends in the present. A careful enough observer could see almost anything coming. They interpreted this phenomenon as meaning that there was indeed some kind of fate or destiny (embodied by the Moirai: Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos).

  24. Our present european concept of time didn't exist before Renaissance.Before that, there weren't clear barriers between past,present and future, it was like one turned into the other : future becomes present, which becomes past .Renaissance started in Italy when people realised that it was time to acknowledge that the roman empire was no more and that they weren't romans and didn't speak latin, but italian.The Roman Empire became the past and Italy the present , with clear delimitations.

  25. There's an important factor missing from all these studies… the difference between a language to speak and a language to write. Tenseless language seems too hard to imagine when we imagine it written, while when spoken the language is more than sounds coming from the mouth, and a simple word can have its meaning simply by how its spoken (the body language and the tone).
    It's like when we write in Arabic "ya salam يا سلام" but when we say it it can mean many things (literally it means "o peace" in a vocative way).

  26. Am I crazy or does that mandarin-english study seem like it relates to reading direction rather than physical conception of time and space?

  27. Japanese sees the past as “in front,” at least to some extent. To say “ten years ago,” you say 十年前、literally “ten years in front.” For “ten years ahead,” it is 十年後, “ten years behind.”

  28. Where would I start to get an understanding of cyclical time and how it works? ( does the book on Hopi time give examples and how it works?

  29. Well done!
    How did you get that stuff about Aymara?
    I amaze you.

    Aymara, Runasimi and Pukina languages have similar time conception concepts. Circular.

    Where 'future's comming back, and 'past time' is just front of us flowing away.
    It's totally a mind blowing conception for no-Runasimi-Aymara-Pukina speakers.
    (Inca Civilisation's official languages)

    In this vid I got what I was missing: Language Relativity (Sapir and Whorf- Ludwig Wittgenstein)

    The question's
    HOW polyglots think in this new globalisation times?

    Wali paysuma jach'@ yatichiri.
    Qakisinkama ( Aymara Arusa)

    (Thank you so much master
    Till next time)

  30. 6:00 this is hardly surprising… their eyes point to the past: ie, they see (remember) the past. They don't see the future.
    edit… already said. mental note: read comments first.

  31. isn't mandarin traditionally written vertically and english horizontally? and doesn't language shape our concept of metaphor?

  32. There is too much philosophical subtly that you are missing. The primary one is no one can know what others consciously experience without being in an other's conscious mind and their own conscious mind simultaneously.

  33. There is too much philosophical subtly that you are missing. The primary one is no one can know what others consciously experience without being in an other's conscious mind and their own conscious mind simultaneously.

  34. Although those languages don´t have the concept of "time" it doesn´t mean (in a couple of them) they didn´t try explain the time either using complex structures or just explaining things in a puzzling simple way instead of using those time keywords. The concept of "time" is present in "advanced" and more structured languages. In "primitive" languages they could ignore it due their simplistic way of life and mental processes.

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