In this paper, I want to challenge a notion I have come across in the preface of Jeanette Winterson’s Sexing the Cherry , namely, that “The Hopi, an Indian tribe, have a language as sophisticated as ours, but no tenses for past, present and future. The division does not exist” to which Winterson asks the reader “What does say about time?” My thesis (and answer to this question) is thus: nothing. In this paper, then, I want to explore the metametaphysical notion of ontological commitment and the problem of making ontological commitments from language; after having brought up problems with respect to ontological commitment, I want to refute a positive answer to Winterson’s question by consulting the work of metaphysician Peter van Inwagen in his essay “Being, Existence and Ontological Commitment”  which poses, in my view, a reductio ad absurdum of the argument which thinks that one can read ontology off language.
Ontological commitment refers to the metametaphysical notion of committing oneself to the existence of a given entity. For instance, when one asserts that ‘the sun is hot’, it is natural to think one has ontologically committed themselves to the existence of ‘the sun’ or ‘heat.’ But, there are examples in ordinary language where this is problematic. For instance, in thinking of sets, properties, functions, relations and the like (all of which are abstract objects—if they exist), it is common to assert that these things ‘exist’ but not in an ontologically committing sense, but, rather, in some other non-ontologically committing sense . I shall leave this debate here as it is and just note that it has caused problems for those thinking of the foundations of metaphysics as well as those doing ontology (and so the question of ontological commitment has a history). However, I want to introduce what Peter van Inwagen has called the ‘Martian language’ in his essay “Being, Existence and Ontological Commitment” and show how if his thesis is correct with respect to the ‘Martian language’, a positive answer to Winterson’s question begets absurdity.
In van Inwagen’s essay, he writes the following:
There are in Martian no substantives in any way semantically related to ‘ˆetre’ or ‘esse’ or ‘existere’ or ‘to on’ or ‘einai’ or ‘Sein’ or ‘be’ or ‘am’ or ‘is’. (In particular, Martian lacks the nouns ‘being’ and ‘existence’. More exactly, the noun ‘being’ is to be found in the Martian lexicon but only as a count-noun—in phrases like ‘a human being’ and ‘an omnipotent being’—and the present participle ‘being’ occurs only in contexts in which it expresses predication or identity: ‘being of sound mind, I set out my last will and testament’; ‘being John Malkovich’.) There is, moreover, no such verb in Martian as ‘to exist’ and no adjectives like ‘existent’ or ‘extant’. Finally, the Martians do not even have the phrases ‘there is’ and ‘there are’—and not because they use some alternative idiom like ‘it has there’ or ‘it gives’ in their place. 
So, van Inwagen presents a language in which there are certain verbs i.e., ‘to be’ and ‘to exist’ which do not themselves exist. But, one might be skeptical as to how this would fair out in ordinary language. Van Inwagen presents examples of ways in which the Martians are able to get around typical English-like ways of speaking language:
Let us consider some examples. Where we say, ‘Dragons do not exist’ they say, ‘Everything is not a dragon’. Where we say ‘God exists’ or ‘There is a God,’ they say ‘It is not the case that everything is not (a) God’. Where Descartes says ‘I think, therefore I am,’ his Martian counterpart says ‘I think, therefore not everything is not I.’ 
I shall presuppose the viability of van Inwagen’s characterizations here for the sake of argument. It is from this that I want to apply a positive answer to Winterson’s thesis. Supposing that in the Hopi tribe there are no temporal distinctions i.e., past, present and future, if one, from that, supposed that these temporal distinctions therefore do not exist, van Inwagen’s argument would show that existence and being themselves do not exist—which is absurd.
I am not sure what pedagogical implications follow from teaching this novel without exploring the philosophical implications of Winterson’s quote; at any rate while the Hopi tribe and their language is interesting from a literary perspective, it does not mean much in the realm of ontology. If my thesis is correct, affirming the ability to read ontology from language entails a reductio ad absurdum (unless one wants to deny ‘being’ and ‘existence’ themselves?).
 Jeanette Winterson. Sexing the Cherry. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 1992. Print.
 Peter van Inwagen, “Being, Existence and Ontological Commitment” in Metametaphysics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.
 By ‘non-ontologically committing sense’, I mean any theory of ontological commitment which would preclude being committed to abstract objects via the usage of language.
 van Inwagen, 478.
 van Inwagen, 478.