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Flowing Time: Emergentism and Linguistic Diversity

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Jaszczolt, Kasia M 


jats:pHumans are complex systems, ‘macro-entities’, whose existence, behaviour and consciousness stem out of the configurations of physical entities on the micro-level of the physical world. But an explanation of what humans do and think cannot be found through ‘tracking us back’, so to speak, to micro-particles. So, in explaining human behaviour, including linguistic behaviour on which this paper focuses, emergentism opens up a powerful opportunity to explain what it is exactly that emerged on that level, bearing in mind the end product in the form of the intra- and inter-cultural diversity. Currently there is a gap in emergentism research. On one hand, there are discussions in philosophy of the emergent human reality; on the other, there are discussions of social, cultural, or individual variation of these emergent aspects of humanity in the fields of anthropology, sociology, linguistics or psychology. What I do in this paper is look for a way to ‘trace’ some such diversified emergents from what is universal about their ‘coming to being’, all the way through to their diversification. My chosen emergent is human time, my domain of inquiry is natural-language discourse, and the drive behind this project is to understand the link between ‘real’ time of spacetime on the micro-level from which we emerged and the human time devised by us, paying close attention to the overwhelming diversity in which temporal reference is expressed in human languages. The main question is, where does this diversity fit in? Does understanding of this diversity, as well as of what lurks under the surface of this diversity, aid the emergentism story? My contribution to this volume on ‘the nature of structure and the structure of nature’ thus takes the following take on the title. The structure of human communication is at the same time uniform, universal, and relative to culture, in that it is emergent as a human characteristic, and as such compatible with the micro-level correlates in some essential ways, but also free to fly in different directions that are specific to societies and cultures. I explore here the grey area between the micro-level and the linguistic reflections of time—the middle ground that is emergent itself but that tends to be by-passed by those who approach the question of human flowing time from either end: metaphysics and the philosophy of time on the one hand, and contrastive linguistics, anthropological linguistics and language documentation on the other. I illustrate the debate with examples from tensed and tenseless languages from different language families, entertaining the possibility of a conceptual universal pertaining to time as degrees of epistemic modality. Needless to say, putting the question in this way also sets out my (not unassailable) methodology.</jats:p>


Peer reviewed: True

Publication status: Published


human concept of time, emergentism, real time, linguistic universalism-relativity debates, tense and aspect, time as epistemic modality, flow of time, tenseless languages

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