- Toyota, Junichi, et al.
Impact of religion on understanding the world: development of tense and modality
- This paper analyses an impact of religious practice on the development of the tense system, in particular the future tense. There have been rich typological studies on the tense, which reveal that a basic tense distinction is either past vs. non-past or past vs. present vs. future in most languages. From evolutionary/historical perspectives, the former case is older than the latter one, i.e. the formation of the future tense is reasonably late in human language. What could have affected the development? We argue that the religious practice, including primitive practices such as shamanism, can be a good indicator of the development cross-linguistically. Our working hypothesis is that languages spoken in a culture where rich religious practices and mythology are found tend to develop the future tense earlier in the development. Some intermediate stages can be found in languages where the future tense is expressed with auxiliaries, and world languages are at varying stages in the development. What our initial study shows is a co-relation between a certain way of dealing with afterlife and the presence/absence of the future tense. In some cultures, people’s life is more or less destined even after death, in a sense that their life in the future or after death, is already set and people are believed to be on a constant, often cyclic, journey. So although the afterlife is not known to us, i.e. it belongs to the irrealis mood, speakers have a fairly good idea about what it looks like and they tend to treat it as something that belong to the realis world, not irrealis one. So this idea does not encourage the development of the future form. When the fate or destination of afterlife is kept ambiguous, such as not knowing whether one goes to heaven or hell, the future tense starts to emerge earlier in the development, and the tense system later grows into the future vs. present vs. past distinction. This is so, because speakers are dealing with concepts that belong to the irrealis mood. Our finding does not necessarily have to be a definition and one should expect some exceptions. However, based on our initial research, it seems promising that a strong connection can be found between religion/mythology and the tense system in human language, reflecting on speaker’s cognitive development in dealing with events in the irrealis modality.