A Melanesian perspective on time and reality

More than 100 different languages are spoken on the islands of Vanuatu, many of which have never been recorded or described. Whilst most European languages use different verb forms to anchor statements in time – “I was, I am, I will be” – the Oceanic languages of Vanuatu pay more heed to the reality of a state- ment than its temporality – does something actually happen or is it only a possibility? These differences raise fundamental questions: How are time and reality conceptually related? What can we learn from these linguistic structures about the way human beings process notions of time? 

Dr. kilu von Prince is a linguist, currently wor- king at the Humboldt- universität zu Berlin. She works on the fascinating systems of temporal and modal markers of the Oceanic languages of Vanuatu, with a special focus on the differences and similarities of how natural languages encode temporal notions.