Another angle on language and how it shapes or at least influences our perception of time.  Here Adam Nicolson discusses the anchoring of tense in many languages, while others allow things to happen in a more imprecise location in time.

‘The sky is the great permanence.  In its divine brilliance, there is no change.  Beneath that steppe-sense of the governing sky there is a parallel and contradictory aspect of the Indo-European mind.  In every daughter-language from Iranian to Hindi, to Hittite, Greek and Roman, all the Romance, Slavic and Germanic languages, Irish and the other Celtic languages, finite verbs are forced into a precise tense. Nothing in Indo-European can escape being located in the time at which it occurred.  In other languages, such as the Chinese language family, there are not tenses and it is possible to blur those distinctions, for action to be described without it being clear when they happened.  Not in the Indo-European languages: this particular form of consciousness is trapped in an awareness of time passing.’

See also Barry Lopez on such distinctions between English and Hopi.


Source: Adam Nicolson, The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters (London: William Collins, 2015), p. 156

Photo credit: Susanne Feldt at


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