Language and the concept of time

Language has always been a mystery to me. Well, not language as such, but how we interact through language. Our intentions and sentiments are more often than not lost as we translate them into language and unintentionally we often end up explaining ourselves endlessly in order to convey what we meant using time and experience as our tools of expressing a more accurate account of what we said.
So, how do we communicate clearly with each other through language without being misunderstood/misinterpreted when coming from completely different backgrounds, cultures and life experiences? And how do we get a clearer understanding of the essence of what we are being communicated and/or are communicating ourselves?

The trick is to keep time out of the equation.
Completely.
There is no way around this essential detail.
It is not a question of when or where, or even of how or why, but of connection.

What is the connection between what is expressed in words, sounds or signs and the unique experience of the one expressing them? Every sentence, every word, every pause has a significance, a meaning and an infinite source of interpretation.

Now infinite may be slightly exaggerated; but taken into account that there are over 7 billion of us humans, going on 9, the math of the numerous connections come very close to a staggering number of possible interpretations.
Especially when one takes into consideration that each individual is exactly that, individual, having years of learning and interpretation of their particular worldview and adding to that their own unique dictionary of the language. Even though two people live right next to each other they will invariably have quite different accounts of shared experiences and sometimes even completely opposite views of the circumstances they both witnessed.

It is therefore quite a puzzle, bordering on enigmatic, establishing a common communication-mode and even more so an understanding between individuals when solely relying on language as we know it.

The words are what they are, descriptive based on observation and inherited and learned observation – this is what it is. It is when the concept of time enters into the mix that most of the diverse misunderstandings arises.

Now there are a few languages which do not factor in the concept of time (past, present, future etc.) but rely on expressions of mood as to whether something has happened, is happening or will be happening. And through completely removing time from language the raw essence of the communication is left, thereby expressing the action, intent and content with much more clarity and precision.

One of these languages belong to the Pirahã tribe in Brazil and for them language is expressing their understanding of existence which is all about the present, the now. This is all there is. Their cultural formular, if you will is: Live here live now. So everything for them is happening in the present relieving the language of the burden of time related complications.
An example is:  “When I have finished eating, I would like to speak with you,” the Pirahãs say, “I finish eating, I speak with you.” (Source)

Now just imagine if our language had the same quality. None of those debatable interpretations of past, present or future-actions, just the essence: this is what is now – and how does that sit with you?

I could certainly imagine a lot of international (political, philosophical, religious etc.) debates and discussions being reduced significantly, not only in the endless hours spent communicating and interpreting the possible meanings, but also in the misunderstandings deriving from these seemingly never ending talks.

Just imagine if only the essence of the communication was present, and the concept of time was left out completely, how much easier and accessible intercultural understand would be.

2 thoughts on “Language and the concept of time

  1. Magyar says:

    __ A nifty read. I love your presentation of the "World's Language Stew"… here, we seem to be facing that dilemma _with a small soup spoon_ on a daily basis. This, my instant Cinquain, may parallel your article. _m

    Haiku,
    scribed in the now;
    each reader imagines
    a storied dream of time and truth;
    eyes blink.

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