Don't Sleep, There are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle

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Don't Sleep, There are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle

Don't Sleep, There are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle

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In the book Everett also explains that the Piraha speak on several different language channels, which is pretty different than English. It is certainly easy to list of the things they don’t have: they don’t have advanced tools, they don’t have many material possessions, they don’t have the internet, they don’t have big houses, and the list goes on.

A theme that runs throughout the book is the idea of the inexplicable ties between language and culture, and that you can’t understand one without the other. Initially I thought Everett had spent three decades with the Piraha uninterrupted – so that I was, absurdly, disappointed when it turned out he ‘merely’ lived there for periods up to five years at a time. Whilst I understand the sentiment, frankly, I would rather that others sent out with that as their missionary mindset, should rethink not only what, but why they are doing what they are doing. If he is sincere in his desire to preserve this indigenous culture, is he wise to uproot two of its members and expose them to this foreign city, just so that he can continue to study their language?He actions often cause mocking from other Piraha, whether it is at the poor way that he hunts or carries objects or speaks their language or identifies an animal threat. Maybe there had been something there that I just missed seeing, but they insisted that what they were seeing, Xigagaí, was still there. Second, only by taking a thoroughly male participant observer perspective on the culture and language is he able to maintain his romantic view of the peaceful and harmonious, nearly Edenic nature of their life. When a language dies without documentation, we lose a piece of the puzzle of the origin of human language.

Chomsky seems to posit that the inclusion of recursion is a must-have for a language and something that separates human languages from other forms of communication. The Pirahã have managed, through sheer force of being content with their own lives, to reject Western culture and capitalism. On our furlough, I thought again of the challenge of the missionary: to convince a happy, satisfied people that they are lost and need Jesus as their personal saviour. Numbers are generalizations that group entities into sets that share general arithmetical properties, rather than object-particular, immediate properties”(p. Parents were not paranoid protectionists — kids were free to burn themselves in the fire, or cut themselves with sharp knives, in the pursuit of higher learning.I opened my eyes and saw the palm thatch above me, its original yellow graying from years of dust and soot. And I can look at some of those old men (old like me) who once threatened to kill me and recognize some of the dearest friends I have ever had — men who would now risk their lives for me.

Thanks Trevor for the link – all the photos in the book are by the same photographer, who presumably accompanied Everett and his family on some of their stays with the Piraha. This last study that showed that Pirahã lacked an indication of recursivity, but also lacked any evidence of non-recursivity, is ridiculous. The best chapter of the book is when Everett after 20 or 30 years realizes that the Pirahas will never be converted (did I mention he went there as a missonary?But frequently they use an expression that, though surprising at first, has come to be one of my favorite ways of saying good night: “Don’t sleep, there are snakes.



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