The story of the strange language of the Pirahã
is just as much a story about the state of the field of linguistics. Professor Dan Everett
of Illinois State University, who lived for decades with the Pirahã, first as a missionary, then as a linguist, believes Pirahã casts serious doubt upon Chomsky's theory of universal grammar
. Chomskyites have started to fight back with a reassessment
of Everett's famous paper on the Pirahã
, where he claimed that the Pirahã "have no numbers, no fixed color terms, no perfect tense, no deep memory, no tradition of art or drawing, and no words for “all,” “each,” “every,” “most,” or “few”—terms of quantification believed by some linguists to be among the common building blocks of human cognition." He also claims that it doesn't have recursion, a feature of language Chomsky recently claimed was the defining feature of human speech
. Dan Everett has rebutted
the Chomskyite reassessment of his work. Video interview
with Professor Everett. [Pirahã previously covered on MetaFilter in 2004 and 2006]
posted by Kattullus
on Jun 18, 2007 -
More on arithmetic in the Amazon
The 10/15 issue of Science has the official publication of Peter Gordon's work on numerical cognition among the Pirahã, and a companion article by Pierre Pica et al. on similar research among another Amazonian tribe, the Mundurukú. What with the U.S. election and the discovery of H. Floresiensis, this is not getting nearly as a much play as the pre-publication back in August of Peter Gordon's work.
Brian Butterworth has an piece
in the Guardian about both articles, and I've put some links, quotes and diagrams here
Compared to the reports on the Pirahã, the Mundurukú people, language, and experiments are all somewhat different, although the conclusions are broadly similar.
posted by myl
on Oct 31, 2004 -
Sapir/Whorf raises its head again in study of the Piraha tribe.
I can't stop thinking about this article
which appeared in the Globe and Mail Friday.
A study appearing today in the journal Science reports that the hunter-gatherers seem to be the only group of humans known to have no concept of numbering and counting.
Not only that, but adult Piraha apparently can't learn to count or understand the concept of numbers or numerals, even when they asked anthropologists to teach them and have been given basic math lessons for months at a time ... the Piraha are the only people known to have no distinct words for colours.
They have no written language, and no collective memory going back more than two generations. They don't sleep for more than two hours at a time during the night or day.
Even when food is available, they frequently starve themselves and their children, Prof. Everett reports.
They communicate almost as much by singing, whistling and humming as by normal speech.
They frequently change their names, because they believe spirits regularly take them over and intrinsically change who they are.
They have no creation myths, tell no fictional stories and have no art.
Can any of our anthropologists or linguists comment? I had thought that narrative was the common link in all human cultures....
posted by jokeefe
on Aug 21, 2004 -