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Friday, 14 June 2013

How the Future was Invented

There's a scene in Chapter 51 of Thomas Hardy's "Far from the Madding Crowd", in which Bathsheba Everdene remarks that it is hard for women to express themselves, in language that was invented by men.

Hardy was a creature of his modernist times, and as such would have thought like a conventional dualist, with the idea that men made the world while women were the passive acceptors of the world that Man was marking.   So I wonder whether Bathsheba's words are right here.

It seems to me that, in the depths of evolutionary time, the invention of language would have been dependent on the context of the inventor. Huddled round a fire for warmth and safety, nursing the infants while the more expendable half of the species were off hunting triceratops, mothers might have had more time for developing the reflective side of language in serious conversation.

So in my hypothesis, women would have been responsible for the development of words of hope, aspiration, comfort and, when the hunters were consumed by a T Rex, consolation. Meanwhile the hunters - either jogging through the primaeval forest after a velociraptor or actually in the process of beating a pterodactyl to death - would have developed words like "quick", "run" and "look out for that tiger".

If my idea is right, then I believe it was probably women who invented the future tense - and with it the whole world in which human dreamers live, with their hopes and aspirations for a new world. Imagine the scene as Stig returns with a brace of supersauruses, while Jasmine has been sitting cooking berries and roots with the women, and nursing little Ug and Rosemary:

Jasmine: Two! Well done!

Stig: We catch them. You cook them?

Jasmine: I'm washing the trilobites. But I will cook you some lizards tomorrow.

Stig: Tomorrow?  What tomorrow?

Jasmine: Oh, I forgot. While you were off hunting, Heather and I invented the concept of the future.

Stig: Future? What the future?

Jasmine: It's really simple. Let me explain. Tonight the sun will go down.

Stig: Sun go down?  No. Sun up there.

Jasmine: Thinking about it, Stig, you don't need verbs much at all in your personal continuous present tense, do you? Just "hit", 'hide" and "run". Stig? Where are you going?

Stig: Run! Run! Hide! Jasmine hit!

And so was opened a linguistic gap that has never really been closed.

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