Time is an abstract concept, evident to people the world over in three astronomical cycles, the daily, the monthly lunar and the annual. They are expressed in western terms by various countable named entities, days of the week, month of the year, numbered years. In fact it is difficult for westerners to conceive of time in other than measurable, countable terms. But Oceanic speakers seem not to conceptualise time in this way. With Malcolm Ross, I have been looking at how Proto Oceanic speakers (speakers of the ancestor language of the Pacific, spoken around 3000 years ago) conceived of seasonal time by reconstructing relevant terms. In this talk I intend to take a close look at two significant questions:
- Did POc speakers have a concept of ‘year’?
- Did names for lunar months form a system?
Gumperz, J. J. & S. Levinson, eds, 1996. Rethinking linguistic relativity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ross, Malcolm, 2003. Time. In M. Ross, A. Pawley & M. Osmond, eds, The lexicon of Proto Oceanic. Vol.2: The physical environment, 285–325.
Whorf, Benjamin Lee, 1956. Language, thought and reality: selected writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf, ed. J. B. Carroll. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.