Amazonian tribe has no abstract concept of time, researchers find

Update: Originally, this post omitted the link to the TIME Magazine article. I’ve added the link – sorry for the oversight. —MGS

TIME Magazine reports:

Researchers from the University of Portsmouth and the Federal University of Rondonia in Brazil have found that the Amazonian tribe Amondawa, has no abstract concept of time. “In English we say things like, her birthday is coming up, or he worked through the night,” researcher Chris Sinha told NewsFeed. “But they (the Amondawa) don’t use such expressions of movement in space to metaphorically talk about time.”

The study was carried out via interviews, observations, questionnaires and experiments, and the results came as a surprise to the researchers, because it’s the first language in which it’s been established that space to time mappings don’t occur.

But although the Amondawa, who were first contacted by the outside world in 1986, don’t have anything like a clock, they do talk in time periods. “They’re just not as strict,” says Sinha. That means that if two members of a tribe were to meet up, they’d say something like “We’ll meet in the afternoon,” or “we’ll meet tomorrow morning.”  This is also explained by the fact that they have a small number system which only goes up to four.

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One response to “Amazonian tribe has no abstract concept of time, researchers find

  1. Perhaps this has something to do with the inability to translate how the Amondawa would, in fact, say something like “We will meet in the afternoon” or “We will meet tomorrow morning”…

    However, these sentences do fuse space and time metaphorically. The statement expresses an action, namely “meeting” taking place “in” something. What will the meeting take place in? The “afternoon”.

    I think it is fair to say that “They’re just not as strict” as Westerners in quantifying time. However, to say that this is the first language wherein no space to time mappings occur strikes me as too broad of a generalization.

    Again, it may be that these translations to English are inadequate in capturing the subtle differences in syntax, phonology and what not.

    Also: why tag a story of a culture, with a slightly different understanding of the world, as an instance of “Intelligence?”