Monday, May 14, 2012

War of Words Over Tribal Toungue

It wasn’t long after his translation of the Gospel of St Mark failed to interest the Pirahã tribe members he was trying to convert to Christianity that Daniel Everett, then a missionary and linguistic anthropologist, began to doubt what he had learned about the foundations of human language. Thirty years on, Everett, now at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts, has long since left missionary work, but his study of the Pirahã tongue has increasingly cast him in the role of heretic in a battle over the influence of culture in shaping the structure of a language. The debate has resurfaced with the publication in March of his book Language: The Cultural Tool and a related television documentary scheduled to be broadcast this week in the United States. But as Everett’s controversial views gain attention, other scholars are beginning to question his interpretations. more

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