May 20, 2011
The Amondawa people who live deep in the Amazonian rainforests of Brazil have no watches or calendars and live their lives to the patterns of day and night and the rainy and dry seasons.
They also have no age – and mark the transition from childhood to adulthood to old age by changing their name.
The team of researchers, led by University of Portsmouth, said that it is the first time they have been able to prove time is not a deeply entrenched universal human concept, as previously thought.
Professor Chris Sinha said: 'We can now say without doubt that there is at least one language and culture which does not have a concept of time as something that can be measured, counted or talked about in the abstract.
"This doesn't mean that the Amondawa are "people outside time", but they live in a world governed by events rather than the passing of time."
Only discovered in 1986, the Amondawa, about 150 strong, continue their traditional way of life, hunting, fishing and farming.
They also have their own language which have a number system but it only goes up to four.
Prof Sinha and his team, including a linguist and anthropologist, spent eight weeks with the Amondawa researching how their language conveys concepts like "next week" or "last year".
There were no words for such concepts, only divisions of day and night and rainy and dry seasons.
They also found nobody in the community had an age.
Instead, they change their names to reflect their life-stage and position within their society.
A little child will give up their name to a newborn sibling and take on a new one.
Prof Sinha said: "We have so many metaphors for time and its passing – we think of time as a 'thing' – we say 'the weekend is nearly gone', 'she's coming up to her exams', 'I haven't got the time', and so on, and we think such statements are objective, but they aren't.
"We've created these metaphors and they have become the way we think. The Amondawa don't talk like this and don't think like this, unless they learn another language.
"For these fortunate people time isn't money, they aren't racing against the clock to complete anything, and nobody is discussing next week or next year; they don't even have words for 'week', 'month' or 'year'.
"You could say they enjoy a certain freedom."
The findings were reported in the journal Language And Cognition.