Unexceptional: Part 3 – Keeping Track of Time
Human beings live immersed in the flow of time. It is a stream that has no borders. But human beings have developed ways of keeping track of time by dividing the flow of time into units. These units vary among different cultures.
For some the day begins at sunrise, while for others the day begins at sunset.
For some the year is based on strictly solar observations; this is true for the dominant, Gregorian, calendar used in the world today. For others the year is based on strictly lunar observations; this is true of the Islamic calendar. For still others the year is based on a combination of solar and lunar observations; this is true of the Jewish and Chinese calendars.
Even though there are different approaches for keeping track of time, they are all counting the same stream of time; it’s just that they are using different markers for their counting.
In the same way, different languages parse the stream of language differently. Some languages will mark a certain sonic appearance as significant, as carrying enough weight to count, while other languages will pass over that sonic appearance. But it’s not that they don’t hear it. And it’s not that the different groups are counting different things. Just as different calendars all keep track of time, so also different cultures keep track of syllables but have different markers for doing so.
The Chinese calendar and the Gregorian calendar are doing the same thing: keeping track of time. And when Japanese speakers and English speakers count syllables they are doing the same thing: keeping track of the stream of sound by parsing it into countable units.