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

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

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

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If he is sincere in his desire to preserve this indigenous culture, is he wise to uproot two of its members and expose them to this foreign city, just so that he can continue to study their language? He also romanticizes the tribe to fit what he wants to see, painting them in as evidence driven atheists, which just misses the mark to me, based on his description of their spiritualism, and peaceful while glossing over incidents of gang rape and murder. This section reads like an adventure/travel memoir, with descriptions of several harrowing events and bizarre customs (from a Westerner's point of view). He says they are lacking in religion because they focus on the "immediacy of experience" and yet he describes their myths and superstitions.

All this is linked to a facet of Pirahã culture that the author terms “The Immediacy of Experience Principle” (IEP). I’d say it’s especially fun considering the latter part of it is almost like a casual linguistics textbook but still very fascinating. I'm not going to comment on the linguistic debate other than to say that the more controversial and polemical it is, the more entertaining it is. This "evidential" aspect of language is tied to/explained by the fact that Piraha language and culture are constrained by immediate experience -- facts are only considered facts by the Pirahas if there's an eyewitness, which also helps explain why all efforts to convert Pirahas have failed over more than 200 years. But the bulk of the text is devoted to really trying to understand their culture, which he does through the “immediacy of experience” principle.

Understanding this culture is not easy but there is clearly a lot that can be learned from this isolated culture group. There is the normal speech, the hum speech, the whistle speech, the yell speech, and the musical speech. They live to a much younger age, have a real danger posed from jungle animals, and die of diseases that have routine cures in the US. The first section of the book, which is about the way the Pirahã live their lives, is absolutely amazing.

Initially, it seems to the reader and to Everett himself that him wanting to eat a salad is completely separate from the fact that he doesn’t quite get the language yet. In his book as well as in an interview Daniel Everett claimed that the Pirahas language influenced their culture. 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. They had no use for the knowledge of the whites, because their way of life worked just fine without it. Thanks for the review – although I’ve been reading your site for a little while, this is the first book that has really caught my eye.Though this was a culturally shocking experience, I can at least understand their culture and respect that their “immediacy of experience” does not mean that they are cruel when it comes to death, but rather they think and talk in the present so it only made sense to them not to let the baby suffer any further. But frequently they use an expression that, though surprising at first, has come to be one of my favorite ways of saying good night: "Don't sleep, there are snakes.

He tells story of his stupidity to identify a massive anaconda, a caiman, and to identify malaria when he thought it was something else. Everett’s heroic efforts were vexed by the fact that no other language on Earth bore the slightest resemblance to Pirahã.

If you enjoyed this book, you'll find another fascinating clash of cultures in Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All by Christina Thompson. For example, he tells a story of taking a few Piraha to a Brazilian city, and they are quite confused. As I was reading that section, I kept thinking to myself about all the things that they do much better than us civilized types. I think Everett’s point is that because the Piraha people have almost no conversation outside their present experiences, they have no need for abstract descriptors such as ‘red’ or ‘green’ – they will simply refer to the red or green thing that they are talking about. I will only accept criticism to Everett's work on this topic by someone who is also fluent in Pirahã, otherwise it's just empty words.

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