Time and quantification in cognition, communication and cultural practice
This project investigates the relationship between time and number in human cognition, focusing on how this relationship is culturally and linguistically configured. This area remains under-researched in traditional societies speaking endangered languages. The experienced researcher will carry out a field-based investigation in three indigenous minority communities of Brazil. The languages of these communities have small number systems with less than five basic numerals, have no metric time systems in which time is quantified as clock or calendar time, and use exclusively event-based time intervals, in which the time interval is indexed to an event or activity. The cognitive domains of time and number both manifest cross-cultural and cross-linguistic differences and their spatialisation in thought, language and familiar cultural artefacts is a key topic in cognitive science. Cultural artefacts for time reckoning (e.g. calendars, clocks) are numerically as well as spatially organised. The project will look at the role of number in event-based time reckoning, analysing it not only in language but also in gestural communication. Speakers do not use spatial metaphors for past and future – instead, they use embodied psychological metaphors such as REMEMBERING IS SEEING. This suggests that the linguistic spatialisation of time is a consequence of cultural practices and artefacts. The project combines methods employing linguistic and non-linguistic experimental tasks, gesture analysis and ethnographic observation. As well as being highly innovative in its scientific impact in the interdisciplinary field of language, cognition and culture, it will generate information to be used in indigenous education and language/culture revitalisation and is important for understanding human-environment relations in traditional non-Western societies. The project findings will be communicated through scientific articles, and to wider audiences through the production of a documentary.