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Science: Aymara Indians think of future as the past

"Most of us describe the future as ahead or in front of us, and the past as behind us. Until the view of the Aymara speakers was deconstructed, no significant exceptions to this way of thinking about time had been demonstrated, according to Rafael E. N�ez, a cognitive scientist at the University of California, San Diego, and Eve Sweetser, a linguist at the University of California, Berkeley, who wrote the report in Cognitive Science.

But the Aymara call the future qhipa pacha/timpu, meaning back or behind time, and the past nayra pacha/timpu, meaning front time. And they gesture ahead of them when remembering things past, and backward when talking about the future.

These are not mere mannerisms, the researchers argue; they are windows into the minds of Aymara speakers, who have a conception of future and past that is different from just about everyone else's.

The authors say the Aymara speakers see the difference between what is known and not known as paramount, and what is known is what you see in front of you, with your own eyes.

The past is known, so it lies ahead of you. (Nayra, or "past," literally means eye and sight, as well as front.) The future is unknown, so it lies behind you, where you can't see."

Get the Story:
Does This Mean People Turned Off, Tuned Out and Dropped In? (The New York Times 6/27)

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