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Pirahã is a language which will make you rethink everything about the role of language in forming culture, perception, and even consciousness. If you’ve ever thought about the link between language and mind, then the basis for the implications will not be extraordinarily new. What will be new is how far those implications are stretched, and how possibly alien a human language could be.

This story begins with a priest leaving his world to find some people who live in darkness. He has found the light and he knows that it is beautiful and he knows that people need it. Fate brings him to the banks of the Maici river in the lowland Amazonia region of Brazil: he meets the Pirahã people. I wonder what he was expecting, and I wonder why he stayed when he saw that they were so different. I expect that it was his faith in love.

The Pirahã live a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, and although they conduct limited trading with the Portuguese speaking Brazilians around them, they resist assimilation and remain entirely monolinguistic1. It is corollary of all that will follow that the Pirahã did not convert or take any religious lessons from the priest – his name is Daniel Everett – and perhaps it is a corollary of his love that he lost his faith but stayed with these people anyway. He had believed that he had found something that was necessary for humanity; he had underestimated humanity.

A summary of the surprising facts will include at least the following: Pirahã is the only language known without number, numerals, or a concept of counting. It also lacks terms for quantification such as “all,” “each,” “every,” “most,” and “some.” It is the only language known without color terms. It is the only language known without embedding (putting one phrase inside another of the same type or lower level, e.g., noun phrases in noun phrases, sentences in sentences, etc.). It has the simplest pronoun inventory known, and evidence suggests that its entire pronominal inventory may have been borrowed. It has no perfect tense. It has perhaps the simplest kinship system ever documented. It has no creation myths — its texts are almost always descriptions of immediate experience or interpretations of experience; it has some stories about the past, but only of one or two generations back. Pirahã in general express no individual or collective memory of more than two generations past. They do not draw, except for extremely crude stick figures representing the spirit world that they (claim to) have directly experienced. (Everett 2005)

If you’ll be patient I’ll get to these below, but let’s first continue the story. Everett has spent over six years living with the Pirahã, and has visited them every year since 1977. In the mid 1990’s he was joined by Peter Gordon who had heard some of Everett’s claims about the Pirahã’s lack of numbers – I expect that the first time he flew down he was expecting to disprove, or at least limit, Everett’s thesis. In 2004 Gordon was ready to publish his results in the prestigious journal Science; his results largely agreed with what Everett had said. The next year Everett decided to publish some of his own observations, in an article entitled Cultural Constraints on Grammar and Cognition in Pirahã. It seems unlikely that he was expecting such a strong response: he has since been told that he is wrong, right, impossible, contradicting himself, challenging the roots of contemporary linguistics and misunderstanding them completely.


Contents

What to read: Everything, please, if you are inclined. But otherwise, if you're in a rush or not convinced it's worth the effort, then I'd recommend reading the next section on language, then skipping down to where it says "Final rehash". I'd ask that you please read the Coda - it's important to me. And finally I have a newspaper article and a podcast I'd recommend for everyone, they're linked just below the Appendix.

  • Pirahã Language
  • Pirahã and Linguistic Theory
  • A Philosophical Coda.
  • Appendix
  • Notes
  • References




Pirahã Language

The areas that have received the most attention, by Everett and others, are number and recursion, followed by color. For this reason I’ve discussed these here and move other topics to an Appendix below.

Pirahã and Number

Pirahã does not contain any numbers. The closest terms to our number are words that mean “small amount/size” (hói), “larger amount/size” (hoí), and “cause to come together” which can be used as we might say “many” (aaibagi).

Examples and anecdotes are the best way to get a feel for what it means to truly lack number terms:

  • The Pirahã do trade with outsiders, and do have concepts of fairness. Hence they are aware that they are often cheated, or at least, that not all traders will trade equivalently with them. For this reason, in the 1980’s, some of the Pirahã requested of Everett and his wife – Keren – that they be taught numbers. Keren tried to teach the Pirahã to count to ten. The Pirahã were enthusiastic about gaining this skill and would come to classes every evening for eight months, until eventually decided that they were unable to learn and gave up. By the end of eight months none of the Pirahã could count to ten (in Portuguese), nor conduct simple arithmetic, and if their answers were on occasion correct it was because their approach to numeracy and addition appeared to be random.

  • When trading, the Pirahã will show what they have to trade and then point to the things they want until the non-Pirahã indicates that it is enough. They can remember the items they trade, but not exact quantities, and will often discuss their trades, wanting to know whether they got a good deal. There is however little connection between what the Pirahã individuals wants when he leaves to trade, and how much he brings to trade with.

  • In Gordon’s and Frank's experiments with the Pirahã they tried to determine whether the Pirahã were aware of numbers even if they did not have as complicated number-terms as English. In one experiments Pirahã were asked to match spools with sticks. When the spools were placed in a straight line the Pirahã had no problem, lining them up so that they matched one-to-one. But if the spools were placed in an orthogonal (i.e. complicated) arrangement, or were shown and then hidden, the Pirahã had significant difficulty with the task, increasing with the number of items.

  • In another experiment, Pirahã were asked how many batteries they were being shown. Then the batteries were either increased in number up to ten, or decreased from ten back to one. Gordon had originally assumed that the Pirahã terms listed above translated to “one”, “two”, and “many”, and I use this translation here for ease of reading. The first battery was always “one”, and after another battery or two that became “two”, and after a few more that became “many”. So far this suggests that the words mean “one-ish”, “two-ish”, “many”. When the batteries were subtracted from ten, then ten was “many”, but then different Pirahã called different amounts “one” or “two”. Often six batteries were “one” batteries. As indicated in the original translation, the three terms seem to be relative amounts – “less” and “more” – rather than actual discrete quantities.

Pirahã and Colour

Pirahã does not contain simple terms for colours, nor are the phrases used in Pirahã describe colours fixed.

Colour descriptions include: black for “blood is dirty”, white “it sees”, and green/blue “not mature yet”. But as one critic has pointed out, if these are terms used in the same way that we use colour names, how do are they any different from being colours? Everett notes that the Pirahã don’t use colour phrases in the same way that we might. I might say that “I like red things” or “don’t eat red fruit” – I am assuming and conveying the idea that there are classes of things which can be identified by colour. The Pirahã don’t do this.


Pirahã and Embedded Language

In all familiar languages it is common to place phrases within other phrases, and it is this capacity which has often been held responsible for language’s power. For example “I said that John will be here” or “I want you to come here”. Analogous phrases in Pirahã make do without embedding the phrases. I few examples are necessary.

  • In English I say that “I said that John will be here”, while in Pirahã I say that “My saying John will leave”, meaning (if I’ve understood correctly) that: “John will leave” (i.e. the saying) is mine.

  • In English I say that “He knows how to make arrows well”, while in Pirahã I say that “He sees attractive arrow making”.

  • Pirahã do contextualize sentences, which can superficially serve the purpose of embedding. In English I say that “If it rains then I won’t go”, while in Pirahã I would break this up into two parts “raining (pause) I won’t go”. A practical difference from embedding is that you could not then ask me in Pirahã “why won’t you go if it’s raining?” The closest in Pirahã would be to ask “why won’t you go?”

  • In Pirahã it is not correct to embed possessions, like in “That is John’s daughter’s son”; in Pirahã I would remove one of the possessors. Instead I would contextualize the sentence, but as in the previous example, you still couldn’t ask me about the the combined facts.

My understanding is that in Pirahã I cannot place more than two ideas into one sentence – this would be embedding language and Pirahã does not allow it. The closest I can come to embedding language is to contextualise what I say; say one sentence which sets up the context for the next sentence. However I cannot then further discuss the sentence as a contextualised sentence2.



 

Pirahã and Language Theory

A couple of pre-points: I’m biased, but I wasn’t when I started. In fact I was very much skeptical. It seemed obvious to me that Everett had missed something. It’s reasonable to suppose that something essential has been lost in translation3. Additionally, despite how I may present things here, there is far from being any consensus. Some people agree with Everett. Many disagree strongly. And the far majority agree with some of what he says, disagree with other things, and modify the rest.

Universal grammar and the language instinct

In a nutshell, the theory of universal grammar says that our capacity for language is based on the fact that we're born with a particular grammar capacity. When as children we learn our language we translate the rules of our inborn, physiological, universal grammar into the particularities of the society's language. This implies that all langauges can be translated into each other, insofar as all languages are dependent on translations of the universal grammar. Furthermore, as heralded by its champion Noam Chomsky, universal grammar is meant to account for how we learn which sentences are allowed and which aren't even when presented with sentences we've never heard.

In light of the fact that we know that languages differ greatly in their syntactic structures and we know how grammaticalization takes place in many specific instances in particular languages, how can anyone maintain the hypothesis of a universal grammar? The answer is to make the concept immune to falsification. Thus, in universal grammar analyses, the most common practice is to invoke universal grammar without specifying precisely what is intended, as if we all knew what it was. (Michael Tomasello replying to Everett 2005) 

All the various forms of universal grammar presume that there are some essential features of language which are the innate capacities that make language possible. But languages like Pirahã - and Pirahã is not the only language to challenge our sensibilities - insist that the common capacity that makes language acquisition possible is far vaguer than anything Chomsky and friends had ever intended. How indistinct can that language instinct be before it is no longer linguistic? If we have a language instinct then do we also have a bow-and-arrow instinct, an art instinct, a god instinct?

Universal grammar is a failure of the imagination. It is no surprise that it is contemporary with globalisation, cultural relativity, and the internet. It is a product of the belief that anything you can say I can say too. It won't be the same thing, but it will be analogous. I cannot stress the incredible variation of languages enough. When I ask you to think of the most different language you can - and if you're an indigenous English speaker - you might think of the complexity of Chinese scripts, of some African tribal clicking calls, of Indian, Russian, Persian, French, I don't know what more, but more. Those examples are barely relevant. I'm sorry, they're just not good enough.

Ethnologue counts some 7000 languages falling into 116 language families. If you listed every single language you'd ever heard of you'd be lucky to hit six of the families4. And that's just today. Go back 500 years and you could probably double the number of language families. And that's just recent history. It'd be optimistic to believe that 2% of all historical human language diversity is accounted for today. And of languages existing today - the random 2% sample - it would be optimistic to believe that even 10% are well documented.

Universal grammar presumes that we know what a language looks like. But we don't. We're surprised by the Pirahã. We're surprised to find out that there are languages without adverbs, without adjectives, that describe with verbs, that don't distinguish between nouns and verbs, and while some have thousands of verbs others only have thirty. And it goes the other way too. There are entire word classes we lack. At the very least there are languages that use classes of ideophones, positionals, coverbs. There are languages without tenses, without aspects, third-person pronouns (or even without pronouns at all). What is universal? What is grammar?


Immediacy of Experience Principle (IEP) and the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

Amongst those that have accepted the reports of the Pirahã as being accurate, and who have used it to challenge universal grammar theories, there are two major approaches. The more traditional of these is a re-working of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. This hypothesis says that our perception of the world is determined by our language.

We are thus introduced to a new principle of relativity, which holds that all observers are not led by the same physical evidence to the same picture of the universe, unless their linguistic backgrounds are similar, or can in some way be calibrated. (Science and Linguistics - BLW)

This hypothesis would say that since Pirahã does not have words for numbers, speakers cannot perceive them at all. Similarly for any other languages and their capacities. Not only can individuals not discuss things for which they have no words, they can't even perceive them as separate things. Not many people accept this today. Instead some people, including some of Everett's co-authors and associates, accept a neo-Whorfian hypothesis: language does not define perception, instead it is a tool that eases perception: language is a short-cut for thought. The Pirahã do have the same potential capacities as anyone else, but many of their efforts are far far less efficient, so much so that they appear non-existent by our standard.

Everett takes a different route. First he notes that what makes Pirahã unique is that it has all these different unique properties, in addition to the unique characteristics of its indigenous speakers. One feature of Pirahã culture and language which could explain all those properties is that Pirahã people require something to be immediate to experience in order to be real. Things that are in the past, or that are no longer seen, or that are virtual abstractions, are not immanent and so not communicable. Everett calls this the Immediacy of Experience Principle (IEP). Everett then argues that IEP is a cultural principle which restricts syntatic capacities. Not the other way around. I admit, here Everett leaps too far ahead for me.

If I understand him correctly, then I think that he is arguing as follows: for a long time we have been aware that different cultures display different values and expectations. Activities or goods that evoke disgust in one culture may evoke desire or incomprehension in another. For a long time we've been comfortable with the idea that language may similarly mould our expectations. But: what if language is an evolutionary artefact? What if there is no language instinct? What if language is a technology invented to serve particular needs? What if it serves the needs of forming social networks? So: is it really so difficult to place language subservient to culture, and hence reassign the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis onto culture instead? If it is possible that we are blind to the straitjackets of language, and if language is a side-effect of evolutionary pressure to form social networks, then isn't it similarly possible that we're blind to the role our culture plays in our perception? Philosophers have long wondered whether we can remove our culture's tinted glasses. Perhaps they underestimated just how far down those glasses go?


Final rehash -

In the first decade of the 21st century, Daniel Everett and others described the Pirahã language. The Pirahã language lacks not just one feature thought to be universal, but a whole host. This has led some linguists and cognitive neuroscientists to proffer a weak form of the the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, suggesting that language is a tool, allowing short cuts in thinking. Everett has taken the argument a step further. If language is not a universal thing, then it is a technology used by Homo sapiens to solve the problem of forming social networks - as manifested by culture. If language is a solution to the problem of culture, then the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis should be taken a peg lower and attached to culture: culture determines thought and language is a tool of culture.




A philosophical coda

From Homo spp to Facebook

One day - over a couple of millions of years - Homo species evolution exploded in an unexpected and unprecedented manner. We're their only survivors. We're pretty smart. But we lost many things our forespecies took for granted. We can't climb trees, have lost most of our fur, and importantly, can only get fresh meat by ganging up on others. Even a Pirahã could not survive in the jungle alone for more than a few days. There is a reason we seek the company of others: there could be jaguar in the bushes.

Tool making has been described as the defining characteristic of the Homo species. Other species use tools, but none of them approach our obsession and dependence on them. The sharp rock was a solution to the problem of distant prey. Fire was the solution to the problem of cold winters. Language was the solution of group dependence. Group dependence could be the defining characteristic of humanity. The key to survival is social networking. It is a primordial need begotten on the unforgiving African savannah. Tools beget tools. The lighter is a flint stone. The B-2 bomber is a slingshot. A Mercedes-Benz is a wild horse beaten into submission. And Facebook is a man lost in the trees listening in fear for the sounds of death and hope.

Everything we've made today we've made because of that primal need. We convinced ourselves that we did it all for sex and power, but perverse as it may sound, we did it to find each other. All these things: transnational civilization, market globalization, the internet; it's all happening now. What if we've been waiting and preparing all these millions of years just for this? What is it exactly we're trying to achieve? And are we nearly there?

Mourning the loss of geocentricity

Apparently the philosopher Wittgenstein was talking about the medieval belief that the the Earth is in the centre of the universe. "Well," said a student, "You can't blame them. It certainly looks like the sun goes around the Earth." To which Wittgenstein replied, "Why? How would it look if it was the other way around?"

That's the tragedy of intellectual revolutions: It looks like Earth is the centre of the universe, but it isn't. Similarly, it looks like mankind are the purpose of nature, but we're not. Our century has incorporated the lessons of Copernicus and Darwin so well that neither of these shock us. Others have similarly knocked down pillars. Kant constricted reality to appearances, Sigmund Freud shrunk our consciousness to a corner of our being.

None of these ever shocked me. Our generation is indifferent to the insignificance of our planet; we know that even if we are descendent from slime floating in the ocean, we can better ourselves; if the world is appearances then we can know them, and if we're barely conscious then it's good enough for what we want to do. Our only limitation is our human choice. But now... for the first time I feel the vertigo invoked by Copernicus and others.

Is it too late for me? Am I already blind. If language (or culture) is such a strong determinant of our ability to perceive then what have I lost? What can I see? German and Urdu are practically identical twins in the grand scheme of things4: what about the other half-million languages I could never know. What about all those that can see where I am dumb? There are things that I'll never be able know, not because of my planet's contingency's, not because of my species' evolution, not because of some transcendental divide, not even because of being a human being. There are words I can never know. Never. So now I see what has happended, and in losing one thing I see everything else that has been lost. I see what we lost with Copernicus, Darwin, Kant, and Freud, and while I know that these are truths, I see now that they're too big for me. I feel like I've been standing on a small precipice for my whole life but never noticed, and beyond: nothing. Not even an abyss.




Appendix

Pirahã and Pronouns

Pirahã pronouns seem to be adopted from other local languages, and the grammar does not require their use. A useful example is that if I tell a story in Pirahã about a panther, “panther” must be mentioned in every sentence, until the panther dies at which point I can use pronouns, calling the panther “pronoun” + “animal meat”. In general the Pirahã prefer not to use pronouns, maybe finding their use ambiguous.

Pirahã and Tense

Pirahã uses two morphemes for time to mark whether an experience is within the immediate control or experience of the speaker: ‘a’ remote and ‘i’ proximate. They lack any perfect tense. They have very few terms for other time-references. A complete list is as follows:

'ahoapio ‘another day’ (lit. ‘other at fire’), pi’í ‘now’, so’óá ‘already’ (lit. ‘time-wear’), hoa ‘day’ (lit. ‘fire’), ahoái ‘night’ (lit. ‘be at fire’), piiáiso ‘low water’ (lit. ‘water skinny temporal’), piibigaíso ‘high water’ (lit. ‘water thick temporal’), kahai’aíi’ogiíso ‘full moon’ (lit. ‘moon big temporal’), hisó ‘during the day’ (lit. ‘in sun’), hisóogiái ‘noon’ (lit. ‘in sun big be’), hibigíbagá’áiso ‘sunset/sunrise’ (lit. ‘he touch comes be temporal’), ’ahoakohoaihio ‘early morning, before sunrise’ (lit. ‘at fire inside eat go’). (Everett 2005)

The unique tense requirements of Pirahã is probably responsible for the excitement displayed by the Pirahã people at events that come in and out of the world of experience. Pirahã love to come watch as a boat turns around the corner and out of sight, or even more exciting, when a match flickers in and out of existence - the fire is continually traversing the edge of reality.

Pirahã and kinship terms

In Pirahã, kinship terms are only used for relatives whom one has known, and never to ones that were born before one's own birth. When in the mid 1990's Everett tried to form a genealogy of the Pirahã people, he could not find a single person who knew the names of their great-grandparents. A complete list of kinship terms is as follows, ("ego" refers to the "I" who is using the kinship term):

’ahaigí ‘ego’s generation’, tiobáhai ‘any generation below ego’, baí’i ‘any generation above ego/someone with power over ego,’ ’ogií ‘any generation above ego/someone with power over ego’ (lit. ‘big’), ’ibígaí ‘usually two generations above ego or more but overlaps with baí’i and ’igií’ (lit. ‘to be thick’), hoagí ‘biological son’ (lit. ‘come next to’), hoísai ‘biological son’ (lit. ‘going one’), kaai ‘biological daughter’ (a house is a kaaiíi ‘daughter thing’), piihí ‘child of at least one dead parent/favorite child’. (Everett 2005)

Pirahã and the absence of creation myths

In a nutshell: the Pirahã do not create fiction, and they have no creation stories or myths. (My understanding is that they can still tell stories (and Everett explicitly says that they can lie, especially for humorous purposes) but that they cannot consider a story to be a thing unto itself).

I have attempted to discuss cosmology, the origin of the universe, etc., with the Pirahã innumerable times. They themselves initiate many of these discussions, so there is no question of any reluctance to discuss the “true story” with me as an outsider. In the early days, before I spoke Pirahã , I would occasionally try to use Portuguese to elicit the information. Often this or that Pirahã informant would tell me (in Portuguese) that they had stories like this and would even tell me bits and pieces, which I thought were similar to Christian stories or Tupi legends common in that part of Brazil (e.g., the widespread beliefs about river porpoises and dolphins, especially the pink dolphin, emerging from the rivers at night to take on human form and go in search of women tomarry, rape, and so on). Indeed, now that I speak Pirahã , I know that even among themselves the Pirahã repeat and embellish these stories. But there are no indigenous creation myths or fiction any longer, if indeed they ever existed, and there is not a single story about the ancient past told by any Pirahã other than bits and pieces of Tupi and Portuguese stories (not always acknowledged as such). When pressed about creation, for example, Pirahã say simply, “Everything is the same,” meaning that nothing changes, nothing was created. (Everett 2005)

 



Do you have 5 minutes right now? Read this New Yorker piece. Going for a walk? Got 13min to spare? Go here and download an interview with Everett.


Notes:

  1. This point has often been criticised in the literature as being inconsistent. Everett elaborates to say that although they can use some Portuguese terms, for instance the word for papa, and although they can repeat words when requested to, they don’t indicate that they understand these words nor have they adapted foreign languages much more than I’ve just indicated. This has of course raised suggestions that the Pirahã are genetically/naturally incapable of learning “sophisticated” languages. However: children born of non-Pirahã mothers are not raised by the Pirahã and learn the national language normally, while Pirahã woman who have children from non-Pirahã men display language capacities indistinguishable from other Pirahã with whom they are raised.

  2. My understanding is that this implies that the way I communicate and the way I consider things in Pirahã is one-to-one (so to speak): I can say that A-B, and then B-C, and you understand that in my second sentence (B-C), B is informed by A-B. But because I cannot say A-B-C, I cannot say C about A-B as a whole. This obviously affects the way I use conditional sentences in Pirahã.

  3. At the time (i.e. when I first came across the Pirahã language and Everett but before I had done much reading) the most suggestive thing I had read what something that Keren Everett had suggested. It was mentioned only briefly in a New Yorker article, and I haven’t found any follow up or similar comments by her elsewhere. She had suggested that there is a secret lying in the prosodic qualities of Pirahã, and that this contains the information Daniel had missed. In the same article Daniel comments that Keren does know more than he does about Pirahã’s musical qualities, but that what’s missing isn’t there. “It would be impossible for her to believe that we know the language, because that would mean that the Word of God doesn’t work.” Although the two divorced many years ago – Daniel’s lost faith formed an inevitable wedge – the two have now made amends. Insofar as that is possible.

    I believe that the Daniel’s expertise in communicating in Pirahã, combined with the results of Gordon’s experiments, show that not only does Pirahã lack obvious terms thought necessary, but also that lacking those terms has real implications for a native speaker’s capacities to use those terms referential correlates. In the study’s case the Pirahã participants were shown to be unable to conduct tasks requiring awareness of the concept of discrete/fixed/relative quantity. Additionally, the incredible variety of possibilities for language (see Evens and Levenson 2009) means that we should no longer instinctively cry "lost in translation" with every novel linguistic phenomenon.

  4. Indo-European (represented in Afghanistan, Albania, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Fiji, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Iceland, India, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Netherlands, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Venezuela) and Sino-Tibetian (represented in Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Thailand, Viet Nam) are only two language families, and account for almost 85% of the world's population today. Today there are approximately 116 language families and 7000 languages.

References: (only "valuable" ref's included)

  • Gordon P Numerical Cognition without Words (2004) Science- this is the highest impact paper on Pirahã. It is important to note that there are a few flaws in this study which do not come to light until the follow-up study in 2008, as well as in comments made by Everett elsewhere.

  • Everett DL Cultural Constraints on Grammar and Cognition in Pirahã (2005) Current Anthropoloy - this is the first important paper. Everett had previously published some minor details of the Pirahã language, but nothing as significant.

  • Everett DL Biology and Language: response to Anderson and Lightfoot (2006) Journal of Linguistics - a reply by DLE to a reply by A&L to a review by DLE of a book by A&L! Here he defends his criticism of of universal grammar and a ‘language organ’ (which is understood to be a defined organ – not merely the brain, but a component of the brain – whose function is sufficiently and necessarily summarized by some language-instinct). It’s as if L&A have reduced ‘function’ by pseudo-tautology to ‘organ’.

  • Frank MC, Everett DL, Fedorenko A, Gibson E Number as cognitive technology  (2008) Cognition - this research paper repeated and followed up on some of the experiments reported in 2006. It concluded that Pirahã were unable to use number concepts, and proposed a neo-Whorfian hypothesis to explain its results.

  • Everett DL Pirahã Culture and Grammar: A Response to Some Criticisms (2009) Language - another response article, and like the one above, is useful for clarifying/restating some of Everett's ideas.

  • Evens N & Levinson SC The myth of language universals (2009) Behavioural and Brain Sciences - this paper bookended most of my Pirahã reading. It also kept me up all night and left me in a daze. It's a bit hefty, and I won't pretend that I understood everything, but... wow.

  • Colapinto J The Interpreter (2007) The New Yorker - [link]

  • Philosophy Bites Daniel Everett on Language (2010) - Podcast

  • http://llc.illinoisstate.edu/dlevere/ - Daniel Everett's (old?) home-page. Make sure you click on "Pirahã Data, Images, and Videos", also includes sound bites!!!

If you're interested in getting a hold of primary material - including pdf's and videos - then let me know. Please check out Everett's website first, it might have exactly what you're after - e.g. some videos, photos, audio recordings.

 

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