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Pass on the past tense
Monday, May 08, 2006
An interesting article ran last week in Der Spiegel. In "Living Without Numbers or Time," reporter Rafaela von Bredow writes about the PirahÃ, a Brazilian tribe whose language is void of numbers, descriptions and subordinate clauses.

A couple parts of the story really intrigued me.

"Under [Benjamin] Whorf's theory, people are only capable of constructing thoughts for which they possess actual words. In other words: Because they have no words for numbers, they can't even begin to understand the concept of numbers and arithmetic."

The idea that our lives are limited by language fascinates me for some reason. If this limitation is true, then what does that say about people who know more than one language? In other parts of the world, several languages are spoken and used even in one city without anyone batting an eye. However, here in the United States, some people get upset if they see any sign in or hear any language other than English. If we adhere to the belief that only English should be spoken in the United States, are we shooting ourselves in the feet in the longrun? Are we limiting our capabilities to create?

The other part that intrigued me was this:

"He [Everett] explains the core of Pirahà culture with a simple formula: 'Live here and now.' The only thing of importance that is worth communicating to others is what is being experienced at that very moment. 'All experience is anchored in the presence,' says Everett, who believes this carpe-diem culture doesn't allow for abstract thought or complicated connections to the past -- limiting the language accordingly."

Living in the here and now is something that I strive for, and I seem to be coming in contact lately with all sorts of stories and books that talk about "now." If by limiting their language, the tribe has created a sort of "ignorance is bliss" society. I wonder if the tribe is truly happy.

Maybe as an experiment, we should do away with the past tense for a month and see what happens.

Song of the Day
"Van Helsing Boombox" by Man Man
posted by pimplomat @ 12:40 PM  
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