LINGUIST List 14.2687

Mon Oct 6 2003

Disc: Re: Genetic Clicks

Editor for this issue: Sarah Murray <>


  1. Daniel Everett, Genetic Clicks & Channels of Discourse

Message 1: Genetic Clicks & Channels of Discourse

Date: Sun, 05 Oct 2003 05:49:50 +0000
From: Daniel Everett <>
Subject: Genetic Clicks & Channels of Discourse

Phil Carr asks if I know about acquisition of rare sounds I mentioned
in Amazonian languages.

My former Pitt colleague, Peter Gordon, and I did set out once to do a
study of Piraha language acquisition, but we were unable to secure
funding before we both left Pitt.

In any case, I do know that many Piraha children learn non-segmental
channels of communication before learning segments. So, for example,
they usually learn 'hum speech' (these are described briefly in my
paper 'Coherent Fieldwork', on my website and to appear from John
Benjamins in the volume of main talks from the International Congress
of Linguists in Prague) before they learn segments. Mothers hum to
their children, maintaining tones, stress, syllabic length, and other
prosodies, but not using segments. Later, some Piraha children proceed
to using glottal stop for most consonants and [a] for most vowels,
refining somewhat until they have acquired the segmental phonology.

The sui generis voiced alveolar-labial lateral double-flap in Piraha,
as well as the less rare, voiced bilabial trill both seem to be
learned after the rest of the consonants and are, in my opinion, a
strong source of group identity, motivated largely by culture.

I don't have any information on the acquisition of the voiceless
alveolar-bilabial trill in Wari'. But fieldwork shows that younger
speakers use it less and less, some not at all, even though it is a
separate phoneme in the speech of older adults. This seems to be the
reverse of the Piraha case, as more and more Wari' (Pacaas Novos)
become fluent in Portuguese and Brazilian culture.

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