Monday, March 26, 2012
How Do You Say ‘Disagreement’ in Pirahã?
In his 2008 memoir, “Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes,” the linguist Dan Everett recalled the night members of the Pirahã — the isolated Amazonian hunter-gatherers he first visited as a Christian missionary in the late 1970s — tried to kill him. Dr. Everett survived, and his life among the Pirahã, a group of several hundred living in northwest Brazil, went on mostly peacefully as he established himself as a leading scholarly authority on the group and one of a handful of outsiders to master their difficult language. His life among his fellow linguists, however, has been far less idyllic, and debate about his scholarship is poised to boil over anew, thanks to his ambitious new book, “Language: The Cultural Tool,” and a forthcoming television documentary that presents an admiring view of his research among the Pirahã along with a darkly conspiratorial view of some of his critics. more