Monday, June 18, 2007

Chomsky challenged (not on Middle East)

The Chronicle of Higher Education:
The Pirahã are an 'ordinary sort of folk,' says Philip Oltermann, a contributor to the British magazine. 'They enjoy chatting and socializing,' as well as 'a drink or two -- not unlike your average Brit.' This 'obscure little tribe from the Brazilian rain forest,' though, may have disproved the most central theory in linguistics.

In 2005, Daniel L. Everett, chair of the department of languages, literature, and cultures at Illinois State University, described Pirahã life in the journal Current Anthropology. His analysis was based on years of living with the tribe. According to Mr. Everett, the tribe is unique because it lacks basic numbers and counting, a vocabulary for colors, a past perfect tense, and a creation myth.

He described Pirahã culture as 'so exceptional that its existence fundamentally contradicted basic beliefs about language, and packed a powerful punch against the man whose theories led to those beliefs: Noam Chomsky,' writes Mr. Oltermann.

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