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

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Everett’s heroic efforts were vexed by the fact that no other language on Earth bore the slightest resemblance to Pirahã.

Everett gives a wonderful sense of life among the tribe, and of those great little moments which show exactly how similar and how different we all are: from the time the men killed the anaconda for the sole purpose of leaving it in the river where the women bathed and scaring them, to the time the tribe kills a baby Everett's family was trying to save because its mother had died and it "wanted to die" too. His writing style is refreshingly free from jargon and academic buzz words, and his explanatory style is clear and easy to follow.The Pirahã only concern themselves with directly experienced events, or at least those within living memory. Although, as in all societies there were exceptions to the rule, this is still my impression of the Pirahas after all these years. However, it is an entertaining and thought-provoking read, and so I guess I'd recommend it, if you don't have this issue.

In his book as well as in an interview Daniel Everett claimed that the Pirahas language influenced their culture. There was a curious contradiction between his latter description of the Piraha as not needing what he had originally gone to share with them ie. I wanted to like this book but I never really trusted its author, a linguist with an editor who used the phrase "a myriad of" in the first chapter. It was still around seventy- two degrees, though humid, far below the hundred- degree- plus heat of midday. you could answer, “Yes, at least I heard that he did,” or “Yes, I know because I saw him leave,” or “Yes, at least I suppose he did because his boat is gone.I don't really know anything about Bear Grylls, but his testosterone-packed name has invaded my consciousness. This book is about the lessons I have learned over three decades of studying and living with the Pirahãs, a time in which I have tried my best to comprehend how they see, understand, and talk about the world and to transmit these lessons to my scientific colleagues. And while they seem fascinated by how long Westerners live, they also have made absolutely no attempt to find out how that's accomplished, because they're happy as they are.

The Piraha world view isn't compatible with the need for "saving," because they do not have a "fall from grace" mentality -- they accept who they are and manage to live content lives despite their shortcomings. Their sense of direction is fluid, organized by orientation to the river rather than cardinal directions on a map. Part 1 is a mixture of anthropology and personal memoir – for example in one chapter Everett relates how his wife and one of his children nearly died of malaria in 1979 – Part 2 is about the Pirahã language, and a short Part 3 relates how living with the Pirahã caused Everett to lose his Christian faith and become an atheist, an ironic outcome for a missionary.Part of the impetus for this rejection was his observation that no one had been successful in converting the Pirahas for over two centuries, despite a slew of missionaries and despite Everett's own painstaking work in translating the New Testament into Piraha and having many discussions with the Pirahas about Jesus. Voice wasn't just a way for organizing information in a sentence, a la Chomsky, it was an everyday expression of belief. Unfortunaltly thought, I feel like this dissmisal of ideas could be a main thing holding linguistics back.

To put it far too simply, Chomsky and Everett are feuding over which has supremacy in linguistics: genetics or culture, nature or nurture. And yet as certain as I was about this, the Pirahãs were equally certain that there was something there. 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. He told the shocking story of how one of the Piraha babies was sick and they felt that nothing else would help the baby, so they gave the baby alcohol to speed up death. The Pirahã's primitive insistenOne night, Everett awakened to the drunken conversation of angry Piraha, who were plotting the murder of him and his family. As a missionary, his intent was to convert, but he had to first convince the Brazilian authorities that he had some other purpose, so he registered as a language student studying the Pirahã language.

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