May 10, 2006

A Linguistic Anthropologist in Brazil

Heard an interview with linguistic anthropologist Dan Everett (mp3) on "Sci Pod", New Scientist's podcast.

Everett talks about the Piraha (pronounced "pita ha", best I can tell without a phonetic alphabet) people's lack of words for numbers and things that happened in the past or will happen in the future. They like to have concrete knowledge of events, Everett says, and they only have words for things like "small" or "relatively larger". Everett says, "the Piraha show us that you can get by just fine without numbers." Hmmm.

But does their language affect their culture? Or does their culture affect their language. A great debate!

See the article: Lost for words; They've no myths, no numbers or colours and few words for past or present. No wonder the Pirahã people defy our most cherished ideas about language, says Kate Douglas, New Scientist, March 18, 2006. Note: You can't get the full-text from the New Scientist web site, but it's on LexisNexis and InfoTrac's Business & Company Resource Center.

See also Everett's article in Current Anthropology: "Cultural Constraints on Grammar and Cognition in Pirahã: Another Look at the Design Features of Human Language." Current Anthropology 46.4 (August-Oct 2005): 621(26). Note: You can't get the full-text from the Current Anthropology web site, but it's in InfoTrac OneFile.

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